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Pl-CLISHED BY A. AXD C. ELACK, 4 SOHO SgCARE, LONDO.X \V.
AMIEICA . .
THF. MACMILLAN COMPANY
64 A- 66 Fifth Avenue. NUW YORiv
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS
ao- Flinders Lanr, MELBOURNE
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA. TTD.
ST. Martin-s House. 70 Bo.vu street. TORO.Nl".
MACMILLAN A- COMP.WY, LTD.
MACMILLAN Building. BOMBAY
3o.y liuw Bazaar Street. CALCUTTA
FIE NEW YORK
ASTOR, LEN'OX ANO
IL PORCELLINO. •
THE BRONZE BOAR OF THE MERCATO NUOVO.
AUTHOR OF "ENGLISH MINSTERS," " THE CHILDREN'S BOOK
OF EDINBURGH," ETC.
CONTAINING TWELVE FULL-PAGE
ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR
COLONEL R. GOFF
Tin: Ni:w Yor?K|
ASTOn, LEr«OX Ann
I. FLORENCE IN THE OLDEN DAYS -
II. THE FLORENCE OF TO-DAY
III. FLORENTINE HOUSES
IV. IN THE STREETS -
V. HUMBLE CRAFTSMEN
VI. THE MARKETS
VII. THE ARNO AND ITS BRIDGES
VIII. A STRANGE PROCESSION -
IX. HOW THE CHILDREN ARE CARED FOR
X. WHERE THE BABIES ARE BAPTIZED
XI. ITS BUILDERS
XII. THE STORY OF THREE FRIENDS -
XIII. ITS PALACES - - -
XIV. TWO OLD MONASTERIES -
XV. ITS PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS
XVI. ITS POET
XVII. ITS MARTYR
XVIII. ITS SURROU^rDl'KG^ AND FEST1^&
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
1. " IL PORCELLINO," THE BROiNZE BEAR OF THE
MERCATO NUOVO _ - _ Frontispiece
2. A PEEP AT FLORENCE THROUGH AN OLIVE GROVE - 9
3. A cook's shop, WHERE WINE AND OIL ARE SOLD - 1 6
4. THE EAST SIDE OF THE PONTE VECCHIO - - 25
5. MONKS AND NUNS - - - - ~ 3^
6. BAMBINO (ANDREA DELLA ROBBIA) - - "41
7. INTERIOR OF SANTA MARIA NOVELLA - - 48
8. COURTYARD OF THE PALAZZO VECCHIO, SHOWING THE
LOGGIA DE' LANZI THROUGH THE DOORWAY - 57
9. VIA DE' SERVI, SHOWING DUOMO - - - 64
10. OLD HOUSES BY THE ARNO - - - "73
11. IN THE CASCINE, OR PUBLIC PARK - - - 80
12. PIAZZA S. FIRENZE, SHOWING THE BARGELLO AND THE
TOP OF THE DUOMO - - -On the cover
A Picture- Plan of Florence inside front cover
The MARZOCCO, or Symbol of the
Power and Rights of the Republic
[The name Marzocco is supposed to be derived
from that of Martc (Mars), the god of war, who
in ancient times was believed to be the protector
of the city of Florence. A statue of this god
stood near the Ponte Vecchio, but during a flood
it was swept away by the River Arno. After
this, the figure of a lion, seated, and guarding the
arms of the city, was substituted for that of the
god, and placed in the Piazza della Signoria, in
front of the Palazzo Veccliio, where the magis-
Now, however, like other statues of great
value, it has been removed to one of the halls of
FLORENCE IN THE OLDEN DAYS
No one can enjoy a visit to the city of Florence without
knowing a little of its history. For it is almost the
greatest centre of Art in the world, and the Art that we
see there is the work of men who lived from five to
six hundred years ago.
It is known as the Art of the Italian Renaissance,
and, although we can see beautiful collections of pictures
and statues and frescoes in other Italian towns, there is
no other place where we can see so many of them
Besides this, the history of the city is so wonderful.
For in its streets and its houses we can read the story
of what the life of a foreign town in the Middle Ages
was, especially as Florence was a city that was governed
by its own magistrates, and owned no allegiance to any
outside ruler. These governing magistrates, of whom
there were eight, were known as Priori^ and they only
held office for two months at a time, at the end of which
period others were elected in their place.
These magistrates were all obliged to have a trade or
profession. That is, they must belong to one of the
great Guilds, or Arti, of which there were originally
twelve — the Guilds of the Silk-merchants, the Physicians
and Apothecaries, the Furriers, the Blacksmiths, the
Woolcombers, the Stockbrokers, the Hosiers, the
Butchers, the Armourers, and so on, and if a noble-
man wanted to become a magistrate, he must, in name
at least, become a tradesman, and join one of these
Guilds. Thus the Florence of olden days could have
shown a very good example to our own time, in that
she encouraged everyone to have a means of livelihood,
and to be proud of the fact.
Many of these merchants became rich and powerful,
and founded families which ranked with those of the
Italian nobility. Indeed, it was they who made
Florence the important city that she was. They
carried on trade, especially in silk and wool, with
every part of the known world, " from Syria to Great
Britain," and this brought immense wealth and fame,
not only to themselves, but to the whole community in
which they lived.
It will help to show you how rich these men some-
times were, when I tell you that one family, the Bardi,
were the bankers of Europe — that is, they lent out
money, just as a bank lends it to-day, and they supplied
Edward III. of England with gold to carry on his wars.
But, as was natural perhaps, these merchant-princes
were very jealous of one another, and if the head of one
family showed signs of becoming a person of more
importance than the head of another, the latter simply
gathered all his friends and dependents together, and
did battle with his rival, and did not mind in the least
If one or two of the combatants chanced to be killed.
In this way there were always parties, or "factions," in
the city, between whom there were constant fightings
in the streets within the narrow walls, and often, when
the leader of one party fell, his followers would be
Florence in the Olden Days 3
driven right out of Florence and banished ; just as in
other countries — Scotland, for instance — a dead man's
retainers were often " put to the horn," or outlawed.
This state of things made the merchants who could
afford to do so, build themselves huge palaces, which
stood in the streets, but which were more often like
fortresses, which they not only filled with all kinds of
beautiful things — for we must not think of them as
savage barbarians, but as highly cultured men — but
in which they also defended themselves against their
It would take too long to tell you about all these
factions, but there were two in particular whose names
will always be connected with the history of Florence ;
— the Guelphs, and the Ghibellines. These names do
not represent families, remember, they represent parties,
just as to-day we have Conservatives and Liberals, but
for a century, at least, the townsfolk ranked them-
selves under the banner of one or the other, and hated
all who were connected with the opposite side with a
deadly hatred. And because they hated one another,
they would fight with one another, and kill one another,
for no other reason than that one was a Guelph and the
other a Ghibelline.
Later on, one great family rose steadily into power.
This was the family of the Medici, who began by
being bankers, but ended by becoming Grand Dukes
of Florence, the title being created for them by the
Emperor and the Pope. And, if you remember, one of
their descendants, Catherine, became Queen of France.
They were very wicked men in many ways, but they
did a great deal for Florence, especially in extending
her commerce and her Art.
During all these centuries, when quarrels and blood-
shed were raging within the walls of the little city,
another kind of life, and a very different kind, was
going on at the same time. In quiet workshops,
within convent walls, and in the great churches, a band
of men, who came into prominence one after the other,
and who were endowed with wonderful gifts of architec-
ture, and painting, and sculpture, were working quietly
at their crafts, giving little heed to the noise and tur-
moil that was going on around them, and producing
some of the most beautiful buildings, pictures, frescoes,
and statues that the world has ever seen.
A great many of these pictures, and statues, and
frescoes were so made that they could not be carried
away, but formed part of the fabric of the buildings of
Florence — and it is this that helps to make the city so
beautiful and wonderful, for, in order to see them, one
must walk about its streets, and examine its old houses
and palaces, and in so doing we cannot help learning as
much about its life in the olden time as about its life in
the present day.
It is very curious how so many strangely gifted men
were born in and around Florence. Perhaps it was
because they were the descendants of the Etruscan
nation, a people who lived in Italy, especially in Tus-
cany, as this part of the country is called, as long ago as
a thousand years before Christ, and who were so artistic
that even the Greeks took their ideas of Art from
They lived in little walled cities, perched far up on
the hill-tops, and were great fighters, but at last, about
400 B.C., they were conquered by the Romans, and were
gradually merged into that race. A colony of them
Florence in the Olden Days 5
lived on the hill of Fiesole, overlooking the Arno, but
as time went on, they lost their individuality as a
separate nation, and came down into the valley, where
a bridge had been built across the river to carry the
highway which led from Germany and the centre of
Europe, to Rome.
Here a new town sprang up, known as Florence, or
the City of Flowers, because it was built on a meadow
in which flowers, especially lilies, grew profusely, and
while, from its position, it naturally became a great
commercial centre, the skill of the old artistic Etruscans
still showed itself in many of her sons.
THE FLORENCE OF TO-DAY
Perhaps the best general view that we can get of the
city of Florence is from the hill of Fiesole, which rises
on the north-east side of the town. From here we can
see the entire sweep of the Valley of the Arno, with
what seems to be only the centre of the city crowded
along its banks, while all round, ten miles in each
direction at least, the low-lying hills are covered with
what looks like dull-coloured brushwood, but which is
in reality one vast olive-yard and vineyard, dotted
thickly with tiny clusters of houses, or houses standing
by themselves, so that the whole stretch of country
looks like one enormous suburb.
This is not so, however. The city is clearly defined
by broad viali^ or boulevards, which have been laid out
on the site of the old walls, the greater part of which
were taken down in 1865, although portions of them
can still be seen. These walls were pierced by seven
gates which are still standing, and give access to the
surrounding country. Beyond the viali are numberless
villas, half hidden by vines, olive-trees, and fig-trees,
and standing in beautiful gardens filled with every flower
and sweet-scented shrub that you can think of — roses,
oleanders, jasmine, myrtle, heliotrope, and lilies.
Farther out, these suburbs merge into little separate
villages, which can be reached by a network of electric
tramways, which run for miles along the roads in all
When we go down the zigzag road which leads back
from Fiesole, and enter the city itself, we are struck at
once by its quaint, narrow streets, and by the way in
which all the important buildings are crowded together.
Not the churches — these are scattered all over the town,
even in the more modern parts, for they were nearly
always attached to convents, which were built outside
the older and smaller city wall — but the Duomo, or
cathedral, the market-place, the principal palaces, the
great building which served as a town-hall, and that
also which served as a prison, the old bridge, and the
tiny little shops, in which various handicrafts have been
carried on for hundreds of years. This is because the
old city was very much smaller than the modern one,
or even than that which was erected in the sixteenth
century, and it stood within a much smaller space,
enclosed by an earlier wall, which has now disappeared.
Indeed, there have been three walls altogether, each
one built to encircle a larger space of ground, as the
town gradually grew and extended its boundaries.
The houses are high, and most of them very
large, being let in flats and apartments, and their walls
The Florence of To-Day 7
are covered with plaster or whitewash, which is not
white, but tinted with the most dehcate shades of
yellow, and brown, and pink, which makes Florence
appear very clean at all times, and wonderfully beautiful
when the soft colouring of her buildings happens to
catch the rays of the rising or the setting sun.
The roofs are tiled with dull red tiles. They do
not slope very much, but they generally project two or
three yards over the walls, thus forming very flat eaves,
having great beams of wood underneath, and are most
picturesque, as well as useful, for the strip of pavement
under them is often quite dry after a shower of rain.
A great many of the houses have loggias, or roofed
balconies, if one can call them so, where the inmates
may live in the open air, and yet be protected from the
sun or rain. These loggias are quite a feature of the
city. Sometimes they are only raised a few feet from
the ground, and seem like low open balconies on the
street ; when this is so, they generally belong to some
great building which used to be inhabited by some very
powerful family, who could in this way spend their
time outside, and watch the life of the street, and hear
what was going on, without actually walking there, and
mixing with the crowd. Now they are used by every-
one as nice shady side-walks, or as places in which to sit ;
or, if they are outside a hotel or restaurant, as cool and
open spaces for people to have meals in. And they
are filled from morning to night with numberless little
tables, covered with clean white cloths, which look most
inviting to lunch or dine at.
Other loggias are on an upper story, and they often
have vines, or fig-trees, or great masses of wistaria
trailing over their railings. But the most common
place of all for them to be situated is on the roof, and
this is the most picturesque spot.
We need to be on some high tower where we can
look down on the rest of the city to see these loggias
at their best. Even the poorest houses have them — just
a tiled roof, supported by four plaster pillars, and a low
wall all round to prevent anyone, especially a child,
from falling over. Here we see the little touches that
show the real life of the people — the boxes filled with
flowers, which convert the tiny space into a roof
garden ; the pile of work ; the bird in its cage ; the
clothes hung out to dry ; even the appliances for cook-
ing, with the stove fixed against the gable wall of a
higher house — all these show how the Florentine people
love the fresh air and sunlight, of which they have such
There is no lack of seats in the streets, however,
where people may sit down and rest, or watch their
neighbours. These seats are not like ours, but are
broad slabs of marble or stone, which run round the
base of most of the great houses and churches. Here
people are to be found at all hours, waiting for a car, or
simply resting and talking to their neighbours. Quite
late at night, in hot weather, we may see, in the public
squares, whole rows of tired men and women, many or
them old, who, their day's work done, have come here
to enjoy the coolness of the evening air. .
These stone ledges serve also as sleeping-places for
workmen during their midday siesta. In Italy, in
summer, it is too hot for anyone to work in the middle
of the day, and men who may be engaged in the
streets, paving, or hewing, or painting, simply lay
down their tools, stretch themselves at full length on
I TILOtN FQUiSDATIO.iiS.
The Florence of To-Day 9
some shady ledge, and go to sleep, heedless of the
Some of the streets are so narrow that the over-
hanging roofs almost meet overhead, and we can just
see a slit of blue sky when we look up, but, somehow,
the sun always manages to peep through the slit and
shine down on the roadway below.
Then, as we walk along, we are constantly coming to
some old building which has a beautiful statue outside,
standing in a niche, or on a loggia, or perhaps there
may be a picture on the wall, covered by glass to
preserve it from the weather. Or, what is more
common, the picture may be formed of mosaics — that
is, little pieces of coloured stone set in plaster. And
as the background of these mosaics is very often formed
of gold, you can imagine how brilliant they are when
they catch the light of the sun. It seems strange to
have such pictures out of doors, but of course wind or
rain cannot harm this kind of work, and although it
seems to us almost waste to have such beautiful thinp:s
in the open streets, when we enter the buildings and
see the wonders inside, we realize that the old masters
could well afford to let a little of their work adorn the
In the square of the Duomo, for instance, we almost
feel as if we were in fairy-land as we look around us.
There is the magnificent cathedral, second only to St.
Peter's in Rome, entirely covered with marble ; — black,
and white, and pink, — rising like a snow palace in the
sunshine. Over every doorway, and in other places as
well, are pictures in glittering mosaics, so large that the
figures are life-sized, and all representing scenes from
Beside It stands a wonderful Campanile, or bell-tower,
formed of the same fairy-like colours, with delicately-
planned windows, or '* shafts," and marvellous carving.
This is called Giotto's Tower, and it is considered one
of the most perfect pieces of architecture in the whole
world. Close beside these two buildings is a third, the
Baptistery, also covered with marble, about which we
will read in another chapter. All three are within
a stone's throw of one another, while any one of them
is beautiful enough to make a city famous tor that one
Most of the houses in Florence are large, and ar)e
divided into flats. The poorer dwellings are entered
by doors from the street, but those which are inhabited
by richer people almost always have a great arched
doorway, like a doorway for a carriage to pass through,
closed by a heavy wooden door opening in two halves,
and adorned with large wrought-iron knockers.
When these doors are opened, one sees a cool, broad,
flagged passage, with often a little room opening out of
it, in which the porter, or portinajo^ lives, if there chance
to be one, or it may be let to some decent needle-
woman or laundress. In the doors of these rooms
we often see a little wicket, or sliding panel, and this
takes us back to the days when these great houses were
all inhabited by their owners, t^e heads of noble
families, who had estates in the country, and who were
not ashamed to sell the wine and oil made there through
those little wickets, the porter, usually an old family
Florentine Houses 1 1
retainer, being the salesman. Now, however, times are
changed. The wine and oil go direct to the merchants,
and not so many of the great families have houses in
When the owner of one of these houses lives in it
nowadays, he occupies, as a rule, the first floor, which
is quite large enough for all he requires. The ground
floor he lets for offices or ware-rooms. In the flat above
him will perhaps live one of his younger brothers, who
is married, but still wishes to have his abode in the old
home. The floor above that will be rented to other
families, who pay a smaller sum in proportion to the
number of stairs that they have to ascend.
These stairs are very wide and cool, and are kept
free from insects, which otherwise might be troublesome
in such a hot climate, by being first sprinkled with
paraflin, and then brushed over with sawdust, in the
same way that housemaids use tea-leaves at home.
The floors of the dwelling-rooms are treated in the same
way, which is easily managed, as they are of tiles, and
although a faint odour of paraffin is apt to cling to them,
one knows, at least, that they are fresh and clean.
All the windows are well protected, having wooden
shutters inside to shut out the cold in winter, and
wooden shutters outside — like stiff* Venetian blinds set
in a frame — to keep out the sun in summer, and yet
allow the window to be open, and air to come in. On
the ground floor, where the rays of the sun are not so
apt to penetrate, there are barred iron gratings over the
windows, instead of these sun-blinds, which would make
that part of the building look rather like a prison, were
it not that most of them are beautifully wrought, and
some of them bulge out in a curious way, so that the
1 2 Florence
people in the room inside can push their heads forward,
and look up and down the street. These are called
*' kneeling gratings," and it is interesting to know that
it was the great Michael Angelo who invented them.
Of course these gratings are placed over the windows
to allow them to be always open in summer, day and
night, without risk of thieves.
The outside blinds are kept constantly closed during
the day in hot weather, which makes the interior of the
houses very dark, but it also keeps them nice and cool ;
and as evening comes, and the sun loses its fierceness, they
are pushed aside, and the light streams in. In winter
the rooms are not heated with open fires, as ours are in
England, but with stoves, in which quantities of wood
is burned ; and in most houses the cooking is done on
stoves also, which are heated by wood, or by charcoal,
which, as you know, does not actually burn, but
smoulders away without any smoke, until it is one deep
red glow, which gives out an even heat, especially good
for broiling meat over. It gives off dangerous fumes,
however, so that it is never safe to burn charcoal in a
The wood for the household fuel has to be brought
from the mountains, many miles away, and the charcoal
also, which is prepared by the charcoal-burners before
they send it to the city. If we chance to be travelling
by night past the foot of any of these mountains, which
are the spurs of the Apennines, we may see, far above
our heads, a ring of fire shining out brightly in the
darkness. Then we may be sure that the charcoal-
burners are at work.
In the city, both wood and charcoal are sold in the
darkest of cellar shops, which have no windows, and are
Florentine Houses 13
reached by a flight of steps which go down till they
disappear in awful blackness. If our courage fail
us, and instead of venturing down, we remain in the
street and call out to the shopman, whom we presume
is inside, such a grimy, wild-looking figure answers our
summons that we are brave indeed if we stand our
ground, and do not turn and fly.
Most of the great houses, of which we have been
speaking, bear the proud title o^ Palazzo^ or palace, and
are built round a square courtyard or garden, where cool
water bubbles up out of a fountain in the centre and
flowers and fruits grow luxuriantly. We get glimpses
of these gardens from the street, when the outer doors
are open, and they look so restful and shady that we
wish we did not need to wait until we made the acquain-
tance of the owners, but could walk in and sit down at
IN THE STREETS
As we walk along the streets of Florence, we see many
people and many things that are very quaint and
interesting. And perhaps what we notice first is neither
a person nor a thing, but an animal — "Brother Mule,"
as St. Francis of Assisi would have called him.
We meet him everywhere, coming in from the
country drawing a queer, long-shaped little cart, filled
with flagons of wine, or bottles of water, or bundles of
hay. We hear him before we see him, for the tinkle
of the bells on his harness wakens us up in the early
morning ere it is daylight, as he passes our windows on
his way to town before anyone but his master and he
are astir. He has on his neck an oddly-shaped collar,
with a crook of copper or brass rising from the middle
of it, from which a bell is generally hung, and his
harness is also set with bells and decorated with scarlet
tassels. These bells are for the purpose of keeping off
the " evil eye," for an old superstition still lingers in
Italy that certain persons, especially if they have blue
eyes, have the power to bring misfortune on those
whom they dislike by simply looking at them. As a
protection the peasants hang little amulets and bells on
the harness of their horses and mules, and take great
care to carve or paint an eye on some part of the collar,
and generally this eye is painted blue.
A lantern is almost always carried under these carts,
and when it is needed it is lit, and fastened to the shaft
to light the way of the little equipage. The master is
very kind to his mule, for he always has a deep round
basket made of rope under his chin, or round his nose
rather, for his nose is imprisoned in it, almost as if it
were a muzzle ; and this is full of hay, so that the
animal can take a mouthful whenever he stands still for
a moment. In summer he wears a net all over his body,
hung with a border of tassels to keep off the flies, and
sometimes, when it is very hot, he wears a hat.
Then there is the water-melon man, who has a stall
or barrow at nearly every corner when water-melons
are in season, and very picturesque it looks. For water-
melons are big and green and cool-looking, and he has
a green earthenware basin beside them, full of water,
in which he keeps a supply of fresh vine-leaves, and
into which he throws the pennies which he receives,
so that they may be clean for the next customer who
needs change. Yet his stall is not all green, for water-
In the Streets 15
melons are rosy-red inside and dotted over with great
black seeds. He knows that most of the men, and
women, and boys, and girls who pass his stall, do not
want to buy a whole melon, but only a slice to eat as
they go along, so he has a large knife, like a kitchen
chopper, with which he cuts one melon into round
slices, which he hangs up on the framework of his stall,
and he cuts another into thick wedges, which he arranges
neatly on vine-leaves spread out on the table.
He often finds the flies troublesome. They like
water-melons as well as we do, so he either covers his
fruit with a piece of thin gauze, or he fixes a number
of strips of paper to the end of a stick, and lazily waves
it to and fro to keep the troublesome creatures off.
A little farther on we come to the man who sells
refreshing drinks. His stall is not so picturesque as
that which we have just passed, for it is covered with
bottles filled with white and red and yellow mixtures — ■
not wine, but " syrups" and home-made liqueurs, which
he mixes in tumblers for his customers with water out
of a pail that stands under his stall. When the time
of fresh lemons comes he brightens up, however, and
festoons his stall with sprigs of lemon-trees, with fruit,
ripe and unripe, upon them. Then anyone who likes
can have a delicious drink of lemon-water, made on
Here is a woman selling vegetables. Yet she has
not a shop, and she has not a stall, and she does not
carry a basket. She is sitting at her ease on a chair on
the pavement, shelHng beans into her lap. How do
you think she manages? She has had a number of
hooks stuck into the wall, and there she has hung
her baskets, so that they are out of the way of the
1 6 Florence
passers-by, and yet quite within reach if they arc
If we cross the Ponte Vecchio, the famous old bridge
of Florence, we are ahnost sure to find a walnut-seller
sitting on the edge of the pavement near an old well.
He does not sell walnuts as they are sold in an ordinary
shop, all higgledy-piggledy, with their jackets on. No,
he is an artist, and his tool is a wooden hammer, with
which he lightly taps a walnut as it rests on the stone
pavement. And, lo and behold ! though we would
have broken the shell, he does not, but only splits the
upper half neatly off, showing the curdled kernel within,
and these kernels he piles up tastefully in a shallow
basket lined with vine-leaves.
There are also the men and women who sell flowers,
and, as is natural in the '^ City of Flowers," they are to
be met with everywhere. On the steps of the loggias,
in the market-places, at the corners of the streets,
everywhere they are waiting, their great baskets piled
up with one kind of flower or another, according to the
time of year. Snowdrops and primroses, golden cassia
and heath, jasmine and primula in early spring ; a
wealth of narcissus, Madonna lilies, violets, lily of the
valley, hyacinths, and lilac at Easter ; then, for months,
the fragrance of roses, and the autumn glow of chrys-
anthemums, gladioli, and brilliant geraniums. They
are very insistent salesfolk, following us along, offering
their wares, and, if we are ladies, thrusting some especi-
ally fragrant bouquet in our faces with a smile, and a
flattering ^^ Bella SignoraJ'
In winter the stalls and barrows of the water-melon
and lemonade sellers give place to those of the buzarri
or chestnut venders, for chestnuts, which grow in great
^.-^ ■■■* ■tl^^fc.w
A COOKS SHOP.
WHERE WINE AND OIL ARE SOLD. PAGE 20.
PUBUC -■ '
In the Streets 17
profusion in the hilly parts of Italy, are very much
used as an article of food by poor people. The buzarri
has a little charcoal fire beside his stall, over which he
roasts his chestnuts, and which sends out a warm,
cheerful glow on cold, bleak, winter days. Here any
passer-by may purchase a handful of broiling hot
chestnuts, and carry them away with him to warm his
fingers, and to eat as he goes along.
Besides these stalls there are proper chestnut-shops,
where chestnuts are cooked in many different ways —
boiled, roasted, or ground into meal and baked into
cakes, one variety of which, castignaccio, is baked on a
round copper tray which retains the heat of the oven
so long that quantities of these cakes are carried on
their metal platters to the various bridges, and there
cut into sHces and sold hot to the passers-by.
As we go through the streets it is curious to read
their names and learn what they mean, but in order to
do so we must either study Italian for ourselves or
know someone who can translate the names for us.
Here is the Street of the Lily, and the Street of the
Sundial, the Street of the Almond, and the Street of
the Lamb, the Street of the Dyers, and the Street of
the Men from the Mountains. In them we may
meet a team of patient white oxen, magnificent, sleek,
well-fed creatures, with red ribbons bound round their
foreheads and heavy wooden yokes resting on their
shoulders, bringing a waggon-load of wine-flagons from
some farm at Fiesole or San Miniato to some wine-
merchant in the city, for oxen are almost always used
for agricultural work in Northern Italy.
Among the crowd we are sure to see some monks
in their distinctive habits, which look strange to our
1 8 Florence
English eyes, and are quite different from the long
black soutanes of the ordinary parish priests.
Here comes a man clad in a long, coarse, loose brown
frock, with a peaked hood hanging down his back, a
white girdle made of cord twisted round his waist, and
sandals on his feet. He is a Franciscan Brother, a
follower of St. Francis, the ''Little Poor Man of Assisi,"
who lived seven hundred years ago, who was so fond
of beasts and birds, who carried out literally our Lord's
injunction to "sell all that he had and give to the
poor," and who, by his preaching, wrought for a time
a wonderful revival in the Church of his day.
Soon we meet another monk, who is dressed quite
differently, in a white gown with a black, scarf-like
garment over it, hanging down in front and behind.
That is a Dominican friar, a follower of St. Dominic,
who was also a great preacher and reformer. But he
represented the law of Moses by his teaching every-
thing that was stern and dark in religion, while St. Francis
represented everything that was bright, and sunny, and
If we were to visit a quaint little monastery on the
outskirts of Florence, we should see a third Order of
monks, who, however, do not go much abroad. I
mean the Carthusians, the monks who lived, until the
French Government turned them out, at the Grande
Chartreuse, near Grenoble in Savoy. They are an
Order which is dying out, and the members are mostly
old men, with shaven heads, grey beards, and brow^i,
weather-beaten faces, for they work a great deal out of
doors. Their dress is the most picturesque of all, being
entirely of white, with a hood shaped like that of the
Franciscans, white stockings, and thick, heavy black shoes.
Humble Craftsmen 19
No one need be at a loss to know the correct time
in Florence, for at twelve o'clock a cannon goes off,
just as a cannon goes off at Edinburgh Castle at one.
Perhaps someone will say in a joke, when they hear
this, " Do you mean twelve o'clock at night, or twelve
o'clock in the forenoon ?" Ah ! There is only one
twelve o'clock in Florence, and that is at midday, for,
instead of beginning the simple numerals over again as
we do, the Florentines count thirteen o'clock, fourteen
o'clock, and so on to twenty-four o'clock, which is
rather confusing to a foreigner.
It is always interesting to watch how things are made,
but it is not always easy to do so. If we go into some
of the older streets in Florence, however, we can see the
craftsmen at their work, and as we watch them, we
cannot help thinking of the bygone days, when, in little
workshops, no bigger than those we are visiting, many
a humble lad, whose name stands out among the great
artists of the world, served his apprenticeship to some
goldsmith skilled in modelling in silver or bronze, and
thus learned the first rudiments of his Art, whether the
Art developed into painting, or sculpture, or architec-
ture. For if we read the stories of the great Italian
'^ Masters," Giotto, Brunelleschi, Donatello, Botticelli,
Ghiberti, Leonardo da Vinci, or Michael Angelo, we
find that almost every one of them began his career in
the tiny workshop of a goldsmith.
But to return to the Florence of to-day. Let us
cross one of the bridges to the southern side of the
Arno, and go along one of the streets that run parallel to
the river, and here we find little open shops, almost like
sheds, in the doorways of which, if you can call an open
space a doorway, the shopman is busy at his trade, and
yet is quite near enough for his neighbour over the way
to carry on a conversation with him. It is all so nice,
and open, and friendly, that it makes one feel that all
these workers belong to one large family.
Here is a blacksmith, with a little anvil in front of
him, which literally stands on the pavement ; and
between the blows of his hammer he can exchange
jokes with the worker in metals next door, who is
busily engaged beating into shape one of these great
copper water-jugs which we admire so much.
Here is a baker, baking curious little circular cakes,
like rings, which are a very old institution in Florence,
and laying them on what looks like a huge metal spade,
with a long handle, with which he slips them into an
oven, yawning like a black cavern at the back of his
shop, with a glowing fire of charcoal beneath it. Across
the street is a confectioner, with a pile of crisp dough-
nuts on a tray, stirring a pot of creamy-looking liquid
over a tiny charcoal stove. He stands on one side
of it, and we can stand on the other, and watch the
delicious frothy stuff beginning to boil.
Near by is a tinsmith, who, with the help of a little
'prentice lad, is converting tins, which have already been
used for Nestle's milk, or canned fruits, into quaint
little coffee-pots, with shallow lips and black wooden
handles. His requirements are very simple, tor he has
only a basin of smouldering charcoal beside him, stand-
ing above a can of water in case it sets anything on fire,
Humble Craftsmen 21
and when he wishes to heat his soldering iron, his little
assistant takes an old pair of bellows, which are lying at
his feet, and blows the charcoal into a glow.
Next we come to a carpenter, busy among his
shavings, and a cobbler sitting with his last, stitching
away, yet having eyes for everything that is going on
As we come near the end of the old bridge, we find
another set of craftsmen whose work needs, perhaps, a
little more skill. I mean the goldsmiths and jewellers,
and the workers in leather and vellum. The things that
they make are very beautiful, and as we look at them
we cannot help wondering if any of the workmen are
descended from the craftsmen we have been talking of,
who lived in the Middle Ages. Their shops are a little
superior to the others, as befits the value of their goods,
but the doors stand open, and through the narrow front
room one can see a big light workshop beyond, stretching
back to the river over which its windows look, where as
many as seven or eight assistants and apprentices, clad
in linen overalls, are attending to the various processes.
Here is the shop of a worker in precious metals, in
gold and silver, which he seems to use principally for
making the things that are necessary for the Services of
the Church — alms-dishes, and crosses, and beautifully
gilt and embossed vessels for the Holy Communion.
Next door is one of the many shops for setting
precious stones and making jewellery. Many artistic
and beautiful ornaments can be bought here, especially
jewellery set with turquoises.
Then comes the worker in leather, and vellum, which,
as you know, is the skin of calves, dressed in a special
way, so that it remains white and almost transparent.
2 2 Florence
and yet is quite tough and strong. We can buy all
sorts of useful things here, although the work on them
is so fine that they are rather expensive — covers for
books, card-cases, handbags of all shapes and sizes, and
picture-frames. The leather work is beautifully gildt^d,
the Florentine lily, which is almost exactly the same as
the French fleur-de-lys, being a common design, while
different devices are printed on the vellum in bright
colours, blue and green, purple and red, and finely
embellished with gold, so that they resemble the
illuminations that we find in very ancient manuscripts.
When we are admiring the work of the Florentine
craftsmen, we must not forget that of the craftswomen,
for the women and girls of Florence make the most
wonderful embroidery, an art which they have learned
from the nuns, and which they practise at odd moments
when their housework is done. As we pass along the
streets, we can see them sitting on their doorsteps in the
evenings, chatting to one another, and embroidering
with skilful fingers blouses or other dainty garments.
A great deal has been done of late years to encourage
work of this kind by a society known as the " Industrie
Femminaky' or Woman's Industries, which has tor its
aim the revival of all sorts of old work and needlecraft,
and which gives both training and employment to
women and girls, in all parts of Italy, who show aptitude
for learning fine embroidery.
Indeed, I think the shops where this embroidery is sold
are quite as fascinating as those of the jewellers or
The Markets 23
There are three markets held in Florence, in different
parts of the city. There is the Mercato Centrale, out-
side the great Church of San Lorenzo, not very far
from the Central Station. This is what we might call
a general market, and if we go there we shall find one
stall where we can pick up all sorts of quaintly-shaped
bits of pottery, for a few soldi^' each, while at another
cheap embroideries will be displayed, at another, haber-
dashery, and so on. Indeed, this market is so like
the ordinary cheap markets at home that it is not
Then there is the Mercato Nuovo, or New Market,
which is situated in the heart of the city. This is held
in a handsome loggia, which was built for one of the
Medici in 1547. Long years ago, when Florence was
famed for her silk, this used to be the silk-market, and
dealers of precious stones brought their wares here also.
But to-day we find most of the stalls piled up with
straw hats — " Leghorn hats," as we call them. For
straw-plaiting and hat-making is one of the principal
industries of the villages which lie on the outskirts of
the city. You have often heard your mother ask for a
hat of " Tuscan straw," have you not, when she wanted
to buy one of good quality ? Well, here are plenty of
such hats. For is not Florence the capital of Tuscany,
and is not the straw grown on the good red soil, not
many miles away? It is washed, and bleached, and cut
into lengths, which are sold in bundles to the country-
women, who divide it between themselves and their
daughters, for even tiny children learn to employ their
leisure time in this way.
In any country village we may see them, or even at
odd times in the streets of Florence itself, going along
with a coil of plaited straw and a bundle of lengths of
straw tucked under the same arm, their fingers busy
plaiting as they go. When so many yards of straw are
plaited, they take the coil to a warehouse or factory,
and sell it to the merchant, who either sells it again to a
milliner, or converts it into a straw hat in his own
workrooms. You all know how beautifully fine and
soft and flexible these Leghorn hats are. They are
large and shady, yet they can be rolled up tightly and
packed in a travelling trunk, and they will come out
at the end of a long journey as fresh as ever.
Besides the straw hats, lovely lace is sold in the
Mercato Nuovo, and twice a week a flower-market is
held here, which is a very pretty sight, as the flowers are
piled up against the grey stone pillars of the old loggia.
Before we leave, we must look at a curious fountain
at one side of the building. It is formed by the figure
of a boar, which is rising on its front legs, and out of
whose jaws a stream of pure water is flowing. Little
children stand on tiptoe, and drink as they pass. " //
Porcellino^' the Little Pig, they call it lovingly, for has
it not given fresh, cold water many times, not only to
them, but to their parents, and grandparents, and
great-grandparents, before them?
But I think the most interesting market of all is that
of San Ambrogio, which is held in a square near the
city wall, not far from the Church of Santa Croce.
This is the market to which all the country-folk bring
The Markets 25
their butter and eggs, their poultry, their home-made
cheeses, their flowers and vegetables. They come into
the city in the early morning, with their little donkey-
carts laden with country produce. Then they fasten
the patient donkeys to a wall, and leave them there,
munching their hay, while they carry whatever they
have to sell, in baskets to the adjoining square.
Curiously, it is generally the men who come to
market, not the women, as is so common in English
It is a pretty sight to come here in the morning,
about seven or eight o'clock, and see the piles of
brightly-coloured vegetables and fruit, and the fat
chickens — looking, alas ! poor little things, very
frightened and unhappy, as if they knew the fate that
was in store for them — and watch the careful house-
keepers, who have come here to cater for their house-
holds, bargaining with the country-folk over the prices.
THE ARNO AND ITS BRIDGES
Let us go, one evening, when the heat of the day is
over, and see the Arno and its bridges. The river
divides Florence into two rather unequal parts, for on
one side lies the greater portion of the city, which is
quite flat and stretches away to the base of the Hill of
Fiesole, while on the other the houses are built on a
hillside studded with myrtles and dark cypress-trees,
which stand out black and sombre in the rays of the
setting sun. Close to the Arno runs a very handsome
broad street or quay, known as the Lung Arno, bordered
with old fpalaces and high, massive dwelling-houses,
and in some parts of the street these houses have loggias
running along the lower part of the building, which are
nice and cool to walk in, and in which are a number of
tiny shops, filled with all kinds of jewellery, pictures,
About the middle of the Lung Arno, there is
one of the most picturesque bits of building that one
can see anywhere. This is the Ponte Vecchio, or Old
Bridge, which represents the most ancient bridge in
Florence. I mean by this that a bridge has stood here
from very early times, although it has been once or twice
rebuilt. The present stone structure was erected in
1345, so it Is more than five hundred years old. At
first, when you look at it, you almost wonder what it is
meant for, for it is only the stone piers that support it,
and the arches over the water, that tell you that it is a
bridge at all. Looking at it from the banks of the river,
it seems a mass of tiny houses, piled like bird-cages one
above the other, while, rising even higher than thev do,
is a covered stone gallery, built in quite a regular way.
When we are on the bridge, it is simply like a street
of little shops, all filled with jewellery and works of Art,
some of which are very beautiful, some quite tawdry.
Both above and below this curious old bridge, on the
left bank of the Arno, there is no broad street, as there
is elsewhere, only the backs of quaint, high, old-fashioned
houses, the walls of which go straight down into the
river, and are one mass of queer gables, and little pro-
jecting windows, and hanging gardens, and uneven roofs,
showing us clearly by their quaint architecture that they
were built in medieval times. In fact, it is absolutely
impossible to describe them, or to tell how picturesque
they are, with their clear tints of cream-coloured wall,
The Arno and its Bridges 27
and dull red tiles, rising against the deep blue of an
As we walk slowly over the old bridge, let us think
of its history. A bndge is said to have been built here
in the time of the Romans. We know that one existed
as early as the days of Dante, though at that time it had
not its border of tiny shops. Then came the building
of the two great Palaces on either side of the river, the
Palace of the Uffizi, and the Pitri Palace, which both
belonged to the Medici, who wanted a secret, or, at
least, covered passage between the two residences, and
so the gallery over the bridge was erected for the use
of the fine ladies and gentlemen of the Court,
Then the little shops were built, and given to the
Guild of Goldsmiths by G^simo di Medici, he who did
so much for his country, and ever since, they have been
inhabited by workers in precious metals. There are
two stories connected with the bridge which you might
like to hear before we leave it. One is quite true —
of the other you must judge for yourselves.
I will tell the true story first. It is like a fairy-tale.
One day when the great Duke Cosimo was making his
lordly way across the Ponte Vecchio, his eye chanced to
fall on a very pretty girl named Camilla Martelli, who
was the daughter of one of the goldsmiths li\'ing in one
of the little houses overhanging the river. Perhaps
the girl was sitting on a stool at the doorway of her
father's shop, ready to sers'e any customer who might
happen to call ; perhaps she was coming home from
market with her basket of fruit and v^etables over her
arm. We do not know, but at all events she looked so
beautiful that the Grand Duke fell in love with her, and
married her, and changed her into a Grand Duchess.
2 8 Florence
She was very unhappy afterwards, poor thing, for
Cosimo became tired of her, and married someone else,
as Grand Dukes were allowed to do in those lawless
days, and she was shut up in a convent, where she was
so rude to the nuns that they all hated her. But that
part of her life does not belong to the history of the
The other story is that the old bridge is supposed to
be haunted by a ghostly watchman, who takes the form
of a beggar. If anyone is bold enough to cross the
bridge at midnight, they see him leaning over the wall,
but he never speaks to them, and if they ask him a
question, he only laughs. But the goldsmiths who are
comfortably in bed in their quaint little rooms smile to
themselves when they hear the laugh (or at least they
did so in the Middle Ages), and turn over, and go to
sleep again. For by that token they know that their
shops are safe, and that the watchman is watching.
The next bridge that we come to, lower down the
river, is the Ponte S. Trinita, or the Bridge of the Holy
Trinity. It is by the corner of this bridge that Dante
is represented as standing, when he saw his " Sweet
Lady " Beatrice, whom he loved so well, pass, '' clad in
white robes between two gentle ladies older than she,"
and where she '* saluted him so graciously " that he
seemed to see the " Heights of All Blessedness."
You all know the picture of the scene ; you see it
everywhere — the great poet standing in the corner of
the bridge, in his dark gown, and the fair young girl
passing along the quay with her friends.
Above the Ponte Vecchio is the Ponte alle Grazie,
which used to be very quaint, but was spoilt when a
number of little cells which stood on it, and which
The Arno and its Bridges 29
formed the home of a community of nuns, were pulled
down, some forty years ago.
These nuns wanted to live a stricter life than they
lived in their convents, so they retired to these little
cells, where they could only see the brown waters of the
Arno rolling beneath them.
The only other bridge which we need visit is that
which stands below the Ponte S. Trinita, the Ponte
Alia Carraja, which got its name from the carri or carts
which used to cross it, bringing loads of wool from
the country farms to woollen mills in the city. Here,
also, there is a curious story to be told. It is said
that once upon a time an old man lived at the end of
the bridge who was such a miser that he earned for
himself a name which meant " Fohd of Money," and
who was so hard-hearted that his neighbours said he
must be under the power of the Evil One. It was
known that he had saved a large sum, and great was the
disappointment of his poor relations, of whom he had
many, when at his death not a farthing could be found.
" The devil had taken it, that was evident," so people
said. And it really seemed as if it were true. For
soon afterwards, a strange thing began to happen.
Every night as the clock struck twelve a goat ran on
to the bridge at one end ; but, no matter how closely
people watched it, they could never see it leave the
bridge at the other.
This was very mysterious, and a party of young men
set out one night to hunt the goat, and run it to earth.
They concealed themselves until the animal set foot on
the bridge ; then they followed it, certain of their prey.
But halfway over it disappeared, and no one could tell
where it had gone. The young men were puzzled, and
went to their different homes, saying that the matter
was beyond their understanding, and thought no more
of the matter, all except one, who turned the curious
incident over and over in his mind until he came to the
conclusion that the goat must be an unquiet spirit, who
was condemned to linger about the place where it had
committed some sin.
So next day he took a spade, and went and digged at
the base of the pillar near which the animal had dis-
appeared. And he soon found all the miser's gold,
hidden under a flat stone. The old man had buried it
there, in case his relatives should obtain possession of it
before he died.
The young man gathered it all up, and divided it
among its rightful owners, and from that time the goat
disappeared — the uneasy spirit of the miser was '' laid."
These are old-time stories, but the bridges about
which they are told are still standing, and as we look at
them we are linked to the bygone days when people
believed such things, and drew morals from them about
the goodness of virtue, and the wickedness of vice.
We do not expect to see the shadowy watchman or
the hunted goat now, but we like to linger on the broad
quays, and watch the numberless little boats, which have
gaily painted helms, being rowed, or '' punted," up and
down the river, for in summer, when the Arno is low,
the boatmen use poles instead of oars, and propel their
little crafts in this way. When they want to moor them
they thrust the poles down into the bed of the river.
These boats look very picturesque moored like this
in the evening, when their owners employ themselves in
fishing with very quaint nets. These nets are simply
fastened to the four ends of two bamboos, crossed and
The Arno and its Bridges 31
tied together in the centre, so that the net forms a
kind of big shallow basket, and the crossed bamboos
the handle. This is let down into the river by another
bamboo, and can be drawn up and down at the fisher-
man's pleasure. These fishermen are a very interesting
race of men, for they follow traditions of their craft
which have been handed down to them from bygone
centuries, and the fashion of their boats and their nets
never change. Neither do the strange fishing-baskets
which they wear slung to their waists, into which they put
the small fishes which they catch, and which they carry
with them when, their labours over, they go through
the poorer streets of the city, hawking their wares.
These fishing-baskets are not baskets at all, but great
gourds, which the fishermen grow in their tiny gardens
and mould into the shape which they require by resting
the fruit on a flat board while it is growing, which
makes it flat at the bottom, and tying a tight bandage
round it near its top, so as to restrict it and form a
"neck," while at the same time it causes it to swell
out into a nice fat shape in the middle. When the
gourd is fully formed it is cut from its stalk, and
placed in the cottage window to ripen and harden.
Then a little hot pitch is poured into it, and the
fisherman turns it round and round in his hands until
the whole of the inside is coated with the liquid, which
gradually hardens, and renders the quaint and useful
But fishing is not the only occupation of these men,
for all of them are renainoli^ or sand- collectors,
When the waters of the Arno are brown and tawny,
as they very often are after a storm, it is a sign that
they are carrying along with them a great deal of sand
which has been washed down from the mountains.
When the river is clear again the renainolo knows that
this sand has sunk to the bottom.
Then he puts out in his boat, and, mooring over the
place where experience teaches him that the sand has
settled, shovels it up into his tiny craft by means ot his
pala^ or long pole with a scoop at the end of it.
When his boat is full he rows to the side of the river,
where another set of men are waiting to pass the sand
through a sieve to keep back stones, etc., and when it
is thus sifted it is sold to masons for building purposes.
If we walk along the banks of the river in the morn-
ing we can watch the washerwomen, who bring their
baskets of clothes to the various flights of stone steps
which run down from the quays to the river for the
convenience of the fishermen, and, kneeling there, pro-
ceed to wash them in the cool running water, spreading
them on the stones and scrubbing them with brushes
to remove the dirt, then hanging them up to dry in the
A STRANGE PROCESSION
Perhaps some day, as we are walking along the streets,
we may meet a very curious and weird procession.
Indeed, if you were alone when you met it, and no one
else were in sight, you might be frightened.
For you would see, first of all, four men, dressed all
in black, carrying or wheeling a long black stretcher,
covered by a framework of black oil-cloth. These men
would be followed by six or eight other figures, walk-
PAGES 18 a. 30.
1. Kr;iiiciM.aii Minor. 2. DDmitiicaii. 3. Carthusian.
4. Poor Clare. 5. Sister of Charity of S. Vincent de Paul.
Fyom ^'ILindbod to Chhtim .wd E.UtihitK.il Ro;„," A, M. ,V. R. T,
,/ //"/«,• M.tll.ion (Hl.uk).
A Strange Procession 33
ing two and two, and wearing long, loose, black cloaks
down to their heels, and having black peaked hoods
drawn over their heads and faces, so that nothing could
be seen of the wearers but their eyes, and it would be
difficult to say whether they were men or women.
And yet, when you know who these figures are,
instead of being frightened, you will look at them
with the greatest interest and respect. For these
are the Brethren of the Misericordia, a society which
has existed for more than six hundred years, whose
members are pledged to go at any hour of the day or
night to succour any sick person who is in need of
help ; to give them " first aid," as we would call it, in
their homes ; to carry them, if necessarv, to a hospital ;
or if, when they reach the house, they find that the
person is dead, to care for the body, and afterwards, if the
friends desire it, to carry it to their own or some other
chapel for a funeral service ; then, if need be, to bury it.
They wear their black hoods in order that they may
not be recognized, and obtain " the praise of men " as
a reward for their charitable work, and also that the
friends of those whom they have helped may not be able
to seek them out afterwards and oScr them any present.
The way in which the Society of the Miscricordia
was founded is very interesting. In the year 1240 a
poor street porter named Pietro Borsi was grieved to
notice that his companions spent their leisure time in
quarrelling and swearing. Half in joke, Pietro per-
suaded them to use their energies in another, and more
useful way. He suggested that every time one of
them uttered a bhsphemous word he should pay a fine
into a common fund, which should be used to buy
litters, and that each of them, in turn, should lend a
hand once a day to carry some sick or wounded person
— for there were plenty of street frays in Florence at
that time — to a place of comfort and safety.
So the "Guild of the Men of the Merciful Hearts "
was started, and from this humble beginning it has
grown into a great society. Anyone who wishes to do
so may belong to it — labouring men, and men of leisure,
busy shop-keepers, and Grand Dukes. If we go into
the Piazza del Duomo we can see its headquarters,
just opposite the south side of the Campanile. Here
we are shown the numberless little cupboards lining the
walls, in which the cloaks of the Brethren are kept, each
with a card with the name of the owner fastened inside.
Some of these cards bear very humble names, some
have coronets marked upon them, one bears the name
of the King. Here are the hand-litters, and litters on
wheels, and — for the Society does not scorn to be up-to-
date in all that concerns its usefulness — here are splints,
antiseptics, and a modern two-horse ambulance.
On a shelf stands the ballot-box, like a miniature old-
fashioned barrel churn, in which the members' names
are balloted, in order to make out lists as to who shall
be on duty during the different hours of the days and
When a case of sickness was reported at the " Resi-
dence," as this central house is called, a signal used to
be given from the top of Giotto's Campanile, and, at the
sound, each of the members who were on duty for the
day was bound to leave his work, whatever it was, to
lay down his knife and fork even, if he were at a meal,
and go without delay to the Residence, where he
donned his sombre garments, and, after joining in the
short prayer, " Give us, Lord, Charity, Humility, and
A Strange Procession 35
Courage," helped to shoulder the stretcher, and set out
with his companions on their errand of mercy.
Nowadays the Society is worked on a shghtly
different principle. A few officials are paid, and are
always on duty, while the Brethren take it in turn to
be in attendance at the Residence for a few hours at a
time in case they are wanted. This is easily done, for
the Society comprises many members, so that the obliga-
tions do not press heavily on any.
There is another society in Florence which has
existed for a very long time, and which also had a very
humble beginning. I mean the " Buonomini di San
Martino," or " The Good Men of St. Martin."
The founder of this society was not a street porter,
but the Prior of the Convent of San Marco, and a friend
of Fra Angelico, who afterwards became Archbishop of
Florence, and who was one of the most simple-minded
and saintly of men. His name was Antonino, and, it
we care to go and look at his bust in the cell which he
occupied in the Convent of San Marco, or at his statue,
which fills one of the niches on the outside of the
Uffizi Palace, we can read his character in his face as
he looks down at us with a wise, shrewd, and kindly
smile, as if, even yet, he were taking a keen interest in
the doings of the strangers who have come to visit his
It was in the days when one great man and his
followers were in power for a few months or a few years,
then fell before some enemy who thought himself a
greater man, and had a larger following ; when factions
were rife, and a family might be rich to-day and poor
This state of things fell heavily on gently-nurtured
people, especially on women and children who had
been brought up in luxury, and who, when poverty
came, would rather starve in silence than beg. And the
worst of it was that no one knew, no one cared. In
fact, no one took the trouble to think about it at all,
save one man. Prior Antonino of San Marco. He
turned the matter over and over in his kindly mind,
and at last he sent for twelve of the best men he knew,
most of them rich tradesmen of the Guilds which had
done so much for Florence, and he talked to them
about the misery which well-born women and delicate
little children had to endure when the party to which
their fathers and husbands belonged fell into disgrace,
and asked them to succour these poor people. His
appeal was successful. The twelve men, touched by
what he said, instantly offered themselves as his assistants
to search out such cases and relieve them.
But where was the money to come from ? Ah ! if the
people of Florence were fighters in those days, they
were also rich, and charitable when a need was laid be-
fore them ; and they are so still.
Let us go to a little square in the centre of the town,
near the Duomo, the Piazza San Martino, at the corner
of which is the tiniest of tiny churches, dedicated to
the Soldier Saint. Look at this old almsbox let into
the wall, and translate, if you can, the inscriptions above
and below it. This is the very almsbox which these
twelve men, with Prior Antonino at their head, set up
at once to receive contributions for their work. They
chose this little church as their headquarters, probably
because of the story of how its Patron Saint shared his
cloak with a beggar, and thus it was that they obtained
How Children are Cared For 37
It was not the name that Prior Antonino chose for
them, however, that was very pathetic and very telling,
and it has its place still in the lower inscription, under
the almsbox. Let us read it — '' The Providers for the
It all seems connected with bygone days, does it not ?
But if we go at certain times into the little church, we
will find a kind-faced official sitting in a tiny vestry,
where there is a deep shelf piled up, not with priests'
robes and things for the Church, but with loaves of
bread ; and, if you watch long enough, you will see a
stream of shabbily-dressed people come up in ones and
twos, and present tickets, and carry away loaves instead.
The Good Men of San Martino still provide for the
HOW THE CHILDREN ARE CARED FOR
If we leave the Cathedral Square, and pass along the
street called the Via de' Servi, we find ourselves in
another square, the Piazza della S. Annunziata, and
here we will see a long building with a loggia in front,
which is reached by a flight of broad steps, and over
which there are a number of what look like enormous
blue china plates set in the wall, each one with the
figure of the dearest little swaddled bambino, or baby,
raised upon it, in what is known as bas-relief.
You will recognize them at once as something rather
special, for, if you have been looking in the shop-win-
dows, you will have seen dozens ot copies ot them, on
post-cards, or plaques, or china ornaments.
This building is the Spedale degli Innocenti, or
Foundling Hospital, but before we enter it I must tell
you something about the hamhinos over the loggia.
They are the work of an artist whose name was Andrea
della Robbia, and the work which he and his uncle
Luca did is unique — that is, there is nothing else like it.
Luca began his life, as so many of his brother artists
did, in a goldsmith's shop, but instead of spending his
time in making statues in marble and bronze, he turned
his attention to terra-cotta, and modelled sweet little
babies* heads in that material.
Then he made up his mind that he would find out
the way to make a " glaze," or hard, shiny surface, to his
terra-cotta, which would stand both wind and rain, and
should, as he said, " make works of clay almost eternal."
For he lived in an age when artists were plentiful, and
there were numbers of rich men who desired to have
pictures and frescoes on the walls of their houses, where
it was too damp, or too exposed, for pictures and frescoes
to be. And Luca thought that if he could discover
such a glaze, then he could produce figures in bas-
relief to fill these vacant places. He was a mere boy
when he took this idea into his head, but he worked on
doggedly and patiently, day and night, often standing
in the cold workshop till his feet were nearly frozen,
and at last he succeeded in producing this curious glazed
porcelain in which so many of his works are executed.
The fame of them spread abroad, orders flowed in
from all over Italy and all over Europe, and Luca had
to get his brothers, and a nephew, Andrea, to come and
help him. But he kept the secret that he had dis-
covered in the family. No one else knew how to
produce the glaze, and although Andrea della Robbia
taught it to his sons, they had not inherited the family
How Children are Cared For 39
talent, and made little use of their knowledge, and so the
hard-won, newly-discovered art was forgotten and lost.
The Hospital has existed for more than four hundred
years, and it receives all the poor little babies who have
no one rightly to look after them, and whose mothers
are quite willing to give them up so long as they are
not asked to take any further interest in them. It is
very sad to think that there are such mothers, but it is
far better for the babies to be brought up carefully, and
healthily, as they arc, and taught to work, than to be
left to grow into girlhood and boyhood " anyhow."
It is in the charge of the Sisters of an Order known
as the Order of St. Vincent de Paul, and very kind and
capable women they look in their blue linen gowns, and
aprons, and great white caps — quite fit to " mother " the
crowds of tiny infants who compose their large family.
When a baby is received, its full name and address is
given, and also particulars about its parents, but the
Sisters only enter these in a book, so that the child,
when it grows older, can find out, if it will, to whom it
While it is in the Hospital it wears a little medal,
with a letter and a number stamped upon it, by which
it can be identified. This sounds like the sternest kind
of poor-house, does it not ? But, indeed, it is not so.
No babies could be better looked after. Each one has
its tiny crib, like an iron clothes-basket, lined with
spotless white, and swung from an iron hook. And
there are numbers of pleasant-looking nurses, dressed
in clean white overalls, who attend to their wants under
the eyes of the Sisters.
No " rich " baby could have more care in all that
regards health. Here are racks filled with bottles
of milk, hermetically sealed so that no germs can reach
it. Here are scales for weighing the tiny mites, with a
nice soft pillow resting on them, so that they may not
Here is the room, with an even temperature, in
which they are washed on a big table, with taps for hot
and cold water in the centre of it, and a soft covering,
like a down quilt, with another covering of oil-skin
above it, where the babies can lie and kick during the
If they are quite strong they are sent out into the
country when they are a few weeks old, and boarded
with some kindly country-woman, who brings them up
with her own children till they are old enough to begin
to work. Then the boys often go to be soldiers, or
they may remain with their foster-parents and work on
the land, while the girls either do the same, or go to
There is another very old and useful institution
for looking after poor children in Florence. This is
the Bigallo, the ancient loggia of which forms a quaint
corner in the Piazza del Duomo.
Long, long ago, this house was the headquarters of
a Society for the Protection of Orphans, but it fell into
disuse, and the funds were used, 1 am sorry to say, for
searching out, not fatherless boys and girls, but heretics,
and then persecuting them. So that, in the days of
San Antonino, of whom we have read as founding the
" Society of the Providers for the Shamefaced Poor,"
the Bigallo was a place to be dreaded.
But when Antonino became Archbishop, he turned
the Charity back to its original intention, and per-
suaded the officials, who were known as " Captains," to
ASTOR, LTMOX AMO
iAMBINO ANDREA DELLA ROBBIA . PAGE 33.
where the Babies are Baptized 41
seek out the poor and destitute, instead of persecuting
So, ever since, the institution has taken charge of the
orphan children of respectable parents, or of widows
who cannot support their families, and it educates and
trains them, and sets them up in trades, or sends them
out to suitable service, when they are old enough to go.
WHERE THE BABIES ARE BAPTIZED
Until quite recently Italian babies were dressed in a
very curious way — indeed, many of them wear the dress,
if dress it can be called, still, especially in the country.
They were " swaddled " — that is, a long strip of linen
was rolled round and round their bodies, until they
were as stiff as little mummies. Then they were laid
on a pillow which their nurse or mother carried in her
arms. We have seen that Andrea della Robbia's bam-
binos^ on the front of the Foundling Hospital, are
swaddled in this manner.
It was believed that this way of dressing infants
made their little backs straight, and their limbs strong,
but nowadays we know better, and the custom is
When they are three days old the babies are taken,
if possible, to church to be baptized, and in Florence
there is only one place where this ceremony is per-
formed, so that all the Florentine babies, for the last
seven hundred years at least, have been baptized on
the same spot, if not at the same font.
This church is known as the " Baptistery," and it is
one of the three buildings which make the Piazza del
Duomo so famous.
It hardly looks like a church outside, for it is a round,
or, rather, an octagonal building — that is, as you know,
a building with eight sides, and it has a very plain
octagonal dome. It has three doors, two exactly
opposite each other, on the north and the south, and
another on the east, which, however, is always closed,
being just behind the altar. These doors are very
beautiful, and have a story which will require a chapter
The Baptistery is one of the oldest buildings in
Florence, for before it was a Christian church it is
supposed to have been a heathen temple, dedicated to
Mars. Then it was turned into a church, and dedicated
to St. John the Baptist, and served as the Cathedral.
It was a very plain little building in those days, with
walls of flint, and it stood in the middle of a church-
yard ; but when Arnolfo, about whom we w^ill read
presently, came in the thirteenth century, and began to
erect all his new buildings, he thought that the plain
little grey Cathedral might be made more beautiful, so
he encased it in marble, so that it should look as fair
and brilliant as the magnificent new Church of St. Mary
of the Flowers, which was rising beside it, commonly
called the Duomo, which would in time take its place
as the Cathedral Church of Florence, but which would
never take from it its unique privilege of being the
building in which all the little children born in the city
are received into Christ's flock, and enrolled under His
It is curiously dark inside, for the windows are very
narrow, and are high up in the walls, so that most of
where the Babies are Baptized 43
the light comes in through the north and south doors,
which are always open.
Great marble pillars stand round the walls, while the
space under the dome is quite clear. The interior of
the dome itself is covered with beautiful mosaic work,
representing our Lord showing His pierced hands,
while all ranks of creatures — Cherubim, Seraphim,
Angels, men, and even demons (who look very like
the gnomes of our northern fairy tales), worship
It is very cool and quiet, and we are glad to come
here out of the blazing sunshine of the Piazza, and sit
down on one of the benches, and look at the marble
font, standing in an enclosed space to the left of the
altar, and think of the hundreds of thousands of little
children who have been baptized here, and the different
ways they travelled, and the different lives they led.
Some of them were rich, some poor ; the majority of
them absolutely unknown to us ; a few whose names
and work we know so well.
Just think for a moment of one baby in particular
who was carried here from a little house in a narrow
street, not a stone's throw away, more than six long
centuries ago. I suppose he looked just like any other
infant, and no one paid much attention to him, except
the nurse who carried him, and the persons who were
his godparents, as he received his name — Durante.
Little did they think that, when hundreds of years had
passed away, the shortened form of the baby boy's
name, Dante, would be among the foremost names in
the world's history, and that he would give to all men,
for all time, a vision so strange and startling, and yet so
beautiful, of that other world, to which succeeding
generations pass so slowly, and yet so surely, that it
makes those who read it realize, as perhaps they never
realized before, the value for good or evil of our actions
here on earth, and the reality of " things unseen."
Perhaps as we are sitting here, one of the curtains
which fall over the doorways will be pushed aside, and
a little family party will enter. We are in luck, for
now we will see a baptism, and we watch the service
eagerly, for it is strange to most of us, being, of course,
according to the rites of the Church of Rome.
But the time to see, not one baptism, but many, is on
a Sunday afternoon, when numbers of babies arrive,
often as many as twenty or thirty, one after the other,
some of them evidently very poor, but daintily clean,
in their little white gowns, or swaddling bands, and
some of them belonging to rich parents, in beautifully-
embroidered robes, and covered, faces and all, with
heavy corded silk coverings, with their initials em-
broidered in gold upon them. When we see this heavy
covering, which seems quite enough to suffocate the
poor little things, we think that the poorer infants have
the best of it, who are only veiled in thin white veils.
But there they are, gentle and simple alike, and are
baptized in the order in which they arrive, two priests
being engaged in the work, taking the services alter-
nately — for each baby has a service to itself— and while
one is engaged in the ceremony, the other is filling up
the certificate, and necessary papers for the last child.
Then the little things are carried out into the sun-
shine again, and back to their various homes, to grow
up and fulfil the vows which have just been taken for
them as best they may, in very different surroundings,
and under very different circumstances.
Its Builders 45
Now, after having seen a little of what goes on in the
city of Florence to-day, we must begin to think about
the old buildings, and pictures, and statues which it
contains, and which, above all other things, make it so
famous, and to do this we must go very far back indeed,
to somewhere about a.d. 1294, when the grave and
reverend men who ruled over the city's destinies woke
up to the fact that the neighbouring and rival towns of
Pisa and Sienna were having wonderful Cathedrals built,
while Florence, which was larger, and more important
than either of them, was content to allow her Bishop's
Chair to remain in the humble little Church of St. John
Baptist. But, having once become alive to this fact,
they lost no time in embellishing their city also.
In those days great bands of skilled workmen —
travelling Guilds — as they were called, went up and
down the country, ready to settle in this town, or that,
according to where their services were needed, and
undertake the building of any edifice.
In one of these bands there was a very skilful
builder, named Arnolfo, and he either came on his own
account or was invited to come to Florence, and was
*' commissioned," as we would say, not only to build a
new Cathedral, but a Palace for the Signoria, or rulers
of the city, and another great church as well.
Of course he only acted as the architect, and he must
have collected round him a band of other workers,
for in little more than four years three enormous
buildings were begun ; the Duomo, or Cathedral, the
Palazzo Vecchio, and the Church of Santa Croce, which
stands in the eastern district of the city.
I have called this chapter the "Builders of Florence,"
and in other chapters we will read about its painters and
sculptors, but it is almost impossible to separate the
names of the men who, as it were, made the city, into
any such divisions, for the builders were often also the
painters, and the painters the sculptors, and so on.
For these men were so gifted that they seemed almost
like Jacks-of-all-trades. They could turn their hands
So we find that the next name that stands out from
the mist of these bygone days is that of a painter,
who yet is described as helping Arnolfo with his plans.
This was Cimabue, who may be called the Father of
Florentine Painting, for his is the earliest picture of
note which is preserved to us — a very stiff, life-sized
Madonna and Child, which was thought so much of
that the citizens carried it in procession through the
streets, and hung it up in the Church of Santa Maria
Novella, where we can see it to-day. But Cimabue is
most noted because he discovered a little country boy,
who had very great talents, both as a builder, and a
sculptor, and a painter, whose name was Giotto. And
this was how it came about.
Cimabue was riding into the country one day upon
his mule, when he chanced to see a little peasant lad,
about eight years old, who was in charge of a flock of
sheep, but who was letting the sheep tend themselves,
while he drew a picture of one of them on a piece of
slate with a sharp pointed stone. Cimabue dismounted,
and looked at the drawing, and he was so struck with
Its Builders 47
the talent that it displayed, that he went to the boy's
father, and asked if he might take the little Giotto
home with him, and train him in his art.
The father consented, and we do not hear very much
more about the lad until his name appears as a friend
of Dante, and as a well-known fresco-painter, who went
all over the country, painting sacred pictures on the
plastered walls of churches by means of what was known
as " tempera " — or, as we would call it, distemper.
That is, in colour which is not mixed with oil, but
with water with a little size in it, to keep it from peel-
ing off the wall, or, as was sometimes done in Giotto's
days, with the whites of eggs, or juice of figs.
You must remember that at this time the common
people could not read, and those pictures, which either
represented scenes from the Life of Our Lord, or from
the Old Testament, or from the Lives of the Saints,
formed a sort of eye lesson by which they could be
taught the truths of their religion.
So Giotto, as he went about his business, painting a
picture of Heaven on the wall over the altar in the
Chapel of the Bagello (where, by the way, he painted a
portrait of his friend Dante as one of the Saints), or
covering the walls of the Peruzzi Chapel in Santa
Crocc with scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist
and St. John the Evangelist, or in Assisi, representing
stories from the life of St. Francis, or in Padua, or
Ferrara, was just a skilful teacher of religion, only he
taught by pictures, not by words.
Meanwhile the great buildings in Florence were
being completed by one Master Builder after another,
for both Arnolfo and Cimabue were dead, and we do
not know who succeeded them. Arnolfo had intended
that his magnificent Cathedral should be crowned by a
dome, but he did not live to see his intention carried
into effect, and no one else dare try to attempt such a
difficult piece of building. So it was roofed over with
a wooden " cupola," and doubtless looked very well as
But the City Fathers were not satisfied. Other
Cathedrals had at least a Campanile or Tower, where a
bell could be hung : theirs had none. So they looked
around for someone to erect one for them.
There was Giotto, the famous painter, who had now
returned to Florence, a man of fifty-eight, and was
working away at altar-pieces, or Crucifixes, or bits of
exquisite statuary, in his little hottega, or workshop.
He was the very man, and they called on him to show
Most men would have said, "Impossible! I cannot
turn to a new craft at my age.'* Not so Giotto. He
laid aside his palette and brushes and carving tools for
the moment, and with compasses and mathematical
calculations he began to plan out a Tower, fit to be the
companion of the Cathedral and the Baptistery. All
the world knows the result. Straight and square, yet
slender and delicate, Giotto's Tower rose to the skies,
a building that is absolutely unearthly in its purity and
its beauty, bright, and fair, and stately, like, as someone
has said, " the Lily of the Annunciation."
But, even after the Campanile was finished, no one
could be found to undertake the task of setting a dome
on the Church of St. Mary of the Flowers.
That honour was reserved for a young man named
Filippo Brunelleschi, who lived nearly a hundred years
afterwards, and about whose carving of a Crucifix there
ITERIOR OF SANTA MARIA NOVELLA. PAGE 46.
Its Builders 49
is a very pretty story told, which must go into another
chapter. He seems to have been a born architect, and,
when he was quite a youth, he began to turn over in
his mind methods for completing the Cathedral accord-
ing to Arnolfo's original design. But everyone laughed
at him, and told him it was much too difficult a task for
him to attempt. He was not to be daunted, however,
and went to Rome, with a great friend of his, Donatello,
who also figures in the story about the Crucifix, and
there he wandered about old buildings, studying the
way that they were built, until he earned for himself
the nickname of the " Treasure-hunter." He had his
reward, for, when he returned to Florence, he at last
persuaded the Signoria to allow him to make the
attempt, and the result was the enormous dome which
gives the Cathedral its commonest name — a wonderful
piece of architecture in any age, more wonderful in those
days, when as yet the dome of St. Peter's at Rome had
not been built, and no one had seen anything to
THE STORY OF THREE FRIENDS
About the year 1105 there were three friends living in
Florence, or rather two were living there, for one had
gone away for a year to wander up and down Italy,
to see what was going on, and perfect himself in his
Their names were Filippo Brunelleschi, of whom we
have heard before, Donato Bardi, and Lorenzo Ghiberti,
who was the wanderer.
They were all quite young. Brunelleschi was twenty-
three, so was Ghiberti, while Donato, or Donatello (the
little Donato), as he was afterwards called, because he
was very short of stature, was only seventeen.
The Duomo was built then, only it had not its dome.
So was Giotto's Tower, and the Baptistery had been
covered with marble, and one most beautiful pair of
doors had been supplied to it, those on the south side,
which had been modelled in bronze by an artist called
Andrea Pisano. They had taken twenty-two years to
complete, and represented scenes from the life of St.
John the Baptist.
But the doors on the north and east sides were still
plain and commonplace, and the Signoria and the heads
of the Trades Guilds made up their minds that they also
should be taken away, and wrought doors of metal
put in their places. So they issued a proclamation
inviting all the " Masters " in Italy to make a " Story
in Bronze " — that is, a bronze panel — representing
some Scriptural scene, and submit it for their approval.
Ghiberti's stepfather was a goldsmith, a worker in
gold and metals, and his stepson had followed his craft;
and so certain was the old man that the lad had talent
enough to compete, that he sent an urgent message for
him to come home at once, and begin a panel like the rest.
Ghiberti instantly obeyed, for he had confidence in his
own ability, and he knew that the man who was chosen
to model the gates had his fortune made for lite.
Seven competitors entered, among whom was Brunel-
leschi, and the subject chosen was the Sacrifice of Isaac.
We can imagine how eagerly the artists worked, and
with what excitement they looked forward to the
decision of the judges. But there were two young
men who were already quite clear in their minds as to
The Story of Three Friends 51
whose panel was most perfectly wrought. These were
Brunelleschi and Donatello, who went round all the
workshops and gave their verdicts long before the
judges had given theirs.
" Ghiberti's is by far the best," they said ; and the
words must have cost Brunelleschi a pang, for he was
very ambitious, and he naturally had hoped to be the
victor. But if he had been, who would have built the
dome of the Cathedral ?
At last the verdict of the judges was announced, and
it agreed with that of the two friends. Ghiberti had
eclipsed all the other competitors, and, in spite of his
youth, he was chosen for the great work. For a great
work it was. He had already made one panel, but
each of the double doors required fourteen panels for
its completion. These panels were to represent scenes
from the Hfe of Christ, the Apostles, and the early
Fathers, and must be as perfect as the artist could
make them in their design and execution.
It shows us what an important undertaking it was
considered, when we read that a special order was
issued by the magistrates, that Ghiberti and all his
fellow-workmen, the men who looked after the furnaces
in his workshop, and the melting of the bronze, and
the casting, were licensed " to go about Florence at
all hours of the night, but always carrying lamps,
lighted and visible." Other people had to be in their
houses by a certain hour, but Ghiberti's furnaces burned
night and day, and they had to be attended to.
The artist was a young man when he began these
gates, he was an old man when he finished them, for
he spent twenty-two years over the first two doors, and
twenty-seven years (some people say seventeen) over
the second, which represent scenes from Old Testament
It is worth our while spending some time in studying
these wonderful doors, of which Michael Angelo said
that they were "worthy to be the Gates of Paradise,"
for they are certainly amongst the most perfect works
of art in the world.
They were Ghiberti's lifework, and we already know
what Brunelleschi's was. The third of the trio of
friends, Donatello, was always a sculptor and carver.
He delighted in producing figures, but we do not read
of him attempting to paint.
One of the first really big things he did, and this
must have been when he was little more than a boy,
was to carve a wooden Crucifix — we can still see it
hanging in one of the chapels of Santa Croce — and he
was so delighted with his work that he showed it to his
friend Brunelleschi, thinking, no doubt, that he would
admire it vastly. But Brunelleschi, who, even in his
early days, was really a very great genius, only smiled
in a superior way without saying anything. Donatello
asked him what was the matter with his carving, and
Brunelleschi, who was always rather contemptuous of
other people's work, said that it was " a countryman,
and not the Christ," whom Donatello had represented
upon the Cross.
Donatello had an exceedingly sweet temper, but he
was nettled at the unkind words, so he replied angrily,
"If it is so easy, take wood, and make a Crucifix
thyself!" and the friends parted.
Brunelleschi never referred to the remark again, but
during the following months he worked secretly at some
very special bi tof work in his own lodgings. Then
The Story of Three Friends 53
one day he asked Donatello to come home to dinner
with him, and, as was the simple custom of the times,
the two apprentices, for they were nothing else, bought
the materials for their repast in the market-place ;
Donatello insisting on paying for it ; and a very plain
little repast it was — some eggs, some fruit, and a loaf of
bread — and he carried them away with him in his apron.
We can imagine the two lads running up some narrow
flight of stairs which led to Brunelleschi's lodgings,
laughing and talking as they went, and bursting into
his room. Then came the surprise which Brunelleschi
had, rather ill-naturedly, I think, prepared for his friend.
There, standing in the very best light, was a wooden
Crucifix, marvellously carved, and the Figure on the
Cross wonderfully lifelike. It hangs in the Church of
Santa Maria Novella to-day, and we can study it for
Poor Donatello! he stopped short as he looked at it,
leaving go of his apron in his surprise, and, it may be,
in his feeling of disappointment, and of course all the
eggs, and fruit, and bread fell to the ground in one
But if there was a little bit of natural sore feeling,
the generous, open-hearted fellow hid it at once. He
was too honest not to own that his friend had surpassed
him, and too much of an artist not to glory in the
masterpiece before him. "Ah, Brunelleschi," he cried,
in genuine admiration, " to thee it is given to make the
Christ, to me only the countryman !" I think that
Donatello was one of those who had learned to " rule
*his spirit," and that at that moment he was more to be
envied than his friend.
After hearing this story it is nice to know that to
Donatello also " it was given " to make many beautiful
statues and bas-reliefs. There is one in particular which
ought to be an inspiration to everyone, especially to
every boy and girl who looks at it. I mean the statue
of St. George, which he carved for the Guild of the
Armourers, to place outside the Church of Or San
This is a very beautiful church situated near the
Duomo, and there are life-sized statues standing in
niches all round the outside of it, placed there by the
various Guilds. Donatello's " St. George " stood for
centuries in a niche at one corner of the building,
looking down on the passers-by.
But at last it was considered too precious to remain
there any longer, so it was taken down, and a copy of
it put up instead ; and now the original stands in the
great hall of the Bargello or Palace of the Podesta,
which is now used as a National Museum.
It represents a young man, in simple armour, leaning
on his shield, which bears the Sign of the Cross. He
carries no weapons, and his face is grave and purpose-
ful, yet quite calm and restful, as if he were quietly
waiting for the call to go forth and fight the evil which
he knows is sure to attack him.
Below, in bas-belief, is a little representation of St.
George fighting the Dragon, as if to give a hint of
what the young warrior's after-life would be.
Many years after this figure had been placed in its
niche, and when the hands that had fashioned it so
marvellously were mouldering in the dust, that greatest
of all sculptors, Michael Angelo, wandering about the
streets of Florence, stopped in front of it, and uttered
the one word, ^^Camminal"*
* March !
Its Palaces 55
Close beside the statue of St. George, in the hall of
the Bargello, are other works by Donatello. On the
wall is a bas-relief in bronze, which is very well known,
of St. John the Baptist as a child, showing only the
head and shoulders, with a slender Cross rising behind
him, while near-by is a statue of David with his foot
on the head of Goliath, and another of St. John the
Baptist as a young man.
Florence, as we saw in the first chapter, is a city of
Palaces. Whenever a great noble rose into power,
whenever a member of one of the Merchant Guilds
grew so rich that he thought he could " found a family,"
he straightway built himself a Palace, and these massive
blocks of masonry were erected as much for places of
defence as for places of abode, for who knew at what
moment those who occupied them might not fall into
ill-favour, and be besieged within their walls by the
citizens, or by the followers of another noble house ?
These Palaces are still standing, as grim and strong
as in the days when they were built, and the more
important of them are used as public galleries, or
museums, where wonderful collections of paintings, and
sculpture, and other works of art are exhibited. Others
are used as public offices, others, again, as private
There are about a hundred houses which bear the
name of " Palazzo " in Florence, so we can only visit
one or two of the largest, and see what they look like.
First of all there is the Palazzo del Bargello, or Palace
of the Police, which was at first the Palazzo del
Podesta, or Palace of the Chief Magistrate. It was
built at the same time as the Cathedral and the Palazzo
Vecchio. It stands in the Via Proconsolo, and from the
outside, it is just an enormous square battlemented
building, three stories high, with a tower, also battle-
mented, at one corner.
But when we enter, and pass through the Great Hall,
now filled with armour, but which in the old days was
used as a torture-chamber, we at once find ourselves in
a medieval fortress. The Palace is not a solid block
of buildings, as we might suppose, looking at it from
the street, but it is built round an open courtyard,
paved with stone, and with a well in the middle ; so
that, if plenty of provisions were stored in the under-
ground chambers, and the great gates were bolted and
barred, the Podesta and his friends might have success-
fully sustained a prolonged siege.
The courtyard of this Palace is typical of many
others, only it is larger and grander, and a broad out-
side stone staircase leads from it to the second story,
which is not usual. Round the courtyard runs a stone
loggia, upon which the second and third stories rest.
They are closed in by ordinary walls, and form long
gallery-like rooms, with small windows looking into the
surrounding streets, and large ones looking into the
courtyard. These rooms are now filled with pictures
and statuary, but the old walls and vaulted ceilings,
covered in many places with paintings and frescoes, the
ancient woodwork, and quaint fireplaces, remain to show
us in what a dignified and cultured way these old
Florentine officials and nobles lived.
Here, for instance, on the second story, is the
rOURTVARD OF THE PALAZZO VECCHJO. SHOWING THE
LOGGIA DE LANZI THROUGH THE DOORWAY. PAGE 60.
Its Palaces 57
Podesti's Audience-Chamber, with a vaulted ceiling,
painted azure blue, to represent the sky, and studded
with golden stars. On one side is a most magnificent
open fireplace, with a broad hearth, and " dogs," on
which to rest the blazing logs in winter, and we can
well imagine what a beautiful room it would be when
the. firelight fell on the polished floor, and on the quaint
wooden chairs and settles with which it would be
furnished. Opening out of it is a chapel, which must
have been a very stately place of worship. The floor
is of marble, the stalls for the worshippers of carved and
inlaid wood, and the walls and roof are covered with old
frescoes in delicate colours, painted by Giotto.
There is something very interesting here. Giotto
was Dante's friend, and he was proud of the fact.
Look ! On the east wall, above where the altar stood,
is a representation of Heaven, with all the Redeemed
thronging into it, and there among them, on the right,
is Dante, in the ordinary dress which a Florentine
citizen wore at that date ; for these old painters did not
hesitate to make their sacred pictures very reaHstic, and
would often paint, not the figures of Jews of Palestine,
or of Wise Men of the East, but of the ordinary Italian
people among whom they lived and worked.
But, alas! culture very often went hand in hand with
terrible cruelty in those days. Next to the beautiful
chapel — opening out of it, in fact — is a little room used
as a cell, where a poor man, who, when he was young,
had been a Franciscan monk, but had broken his vows
and become a brigand, was chained, as a punishment,
like a dog to the wall, for thirty years, till he died.
Again, the picturesque Audience-Chamber, which
we have just been admiring, served, some six hundred
years ago, as the retiring-room of the Duke of Athens,
who had been such a wicked man that he was obliged
to take refuge in the Bargellofrom the vengeance of some
of the nobles of Florence who had suffered from his
tyranny. They besieged the building until he and
his followers were like to die of starvation, then, to
his everlasting disgrace, he saved his life, not by going
out to the enraged citizens himself, but by opening the
door a very little, and pushing out one of his Knights,
and the Knight's son, a boy of eighteen, who had both
been very zealous in carrying out their master's orders.
The citizens were satisfied with these two victims, whom
they hacked to pieces at once, and carried the bloody
fragments of flesh through the streets on their lances.
Such were the contrasts which Florence presented in
those days. Violence, and scheming, and bloodshed in
the streets and Palaces, and in tiny little workshops,
and churches, and convent cells, plain, homely men, who
yet were the possessors of marvellous gifts, working
quietly at paintings, or sculptures, or carvings, which
are looked on now as priceless treasures.
Then there is the Palazzo della Signoria, or the
Palace of the Governors of the city, more commonly
called the Palazzo Vecchio, or Old Palace, standing at
the side of the Piazza della Signoria. It has rather a
Arnolfo, about whom we have read in the chapter on
" Builders," was asked to build a Palace for the Signoria.
But, unfortunately, it was just at the time when there
was such a rivalry between the parties of the Guelphs
and the Ghibellines. The Guelphs were in power, and
to show their hatred of the Ghibellines they told the
poor architect that he must build the Palace in the
Its Palaces 59
square, and yet that he must on no account build it on
a foot of ground which had belonged to the Ghibellines —
which was somewhat difficult, for these Ghibellines
had once had a Palace in the centre of the square, the
very place on which Arnolfo was planning to build!
But there was no help for it. He had to do as he
was bid, so with great difficulty, and by dint of knock-
ing down a house or two, and part of a church, he
managed to get his new Palace squeezed into a corner
of the square. It had to stand a little off the straight,
but that did not matter. And, to add to his difficulties,
he had to take in an old tower, the Tower of the Vacca,
or Cow, in which a bell hung, called " The Cow," of
which the citizens were very fond. But he managed
to do this also, and he made the Tower higher, so that
it would rise above the rest of the Palace.
It is a beautiful Tower, with a wonderful crown of
stone upon it, in which the old bell still hangs. But
Arnolfo did not live to complete it. He was quite
content to have designed and built the solid building,
however, '' the difficult part," as he called it, and was
willing that "other Masters," who came after him,
should do the rest.
Other two very large and famous Palaces are the
Uffizi Palace, one corner of which stands just opposite
the Palazzo Vecchio, and is so big that it forms two sides
of the street which runs from the Piazza della Signoria
to the Arno ; and the Pitti Palace, which stands on the
other side of the river.
The Pitti Palace was built for a private citizen, Luca
Pitti, in the fifteenth century, and as we look at its
enormous size and strength we realize how wealthy
these old merchants of Florence were. But misfortune
fell upon his family, and they were forced to sell it to
the wife of one of their bitterest foes, Cosimo de'
Medici. Since then it has always been the Palace of
the reigning Sovereign, of the Grand Dukes first, then
of the present King, who lives here when he comes to
Not satisfied with the Pitti Palace as a residence,
Cosimo also built the Uffizi Palace, and there is a
secret passage between the two, or a so-called secret
passage, for, as it is formed by the covered gallery
which was built upon the Ponte Vecchio, it must always
have been plainly seen. This was for purposes of
safety. If the Pitti Palace were attacked the inhabitants
could escape to the Uffizi, and probably they had also
a secret means of exit from the passage into one of the
tiny houses which surrounded it, at either end of the
Once in the Uffizi Palace, Cosimo's family at least
was fairly safe ; for close to it — adjoining it, in fact — is a
great loggia, raised about six feet from the street, known
as the Loggia de' Lanzi, which took its name from the
Swiss Lancers who were always stationed here, as a
bodyguard for the Duke and his friends.
And besides this, another covered passage, high up
in the air, connects the Palace with the Palazzo Vecchio,
where a strong body of soldiers would always be
Yet, in spite of these precautions, the downfall of this
powerful family came at last ; and the son of Lorenzo
the Magnificent, after weakly delivering up the city
into the hands of Charles the Eighth of France, was
driven beyond its walls by the avenging citizens.
The two Palaces are turned into huge picture-
Two Old Monasteries 6i
galleries — at least, the whole of the Uffizi is used for
this purpose, and one wing of the Pitti Palace, the rest
of it serving, as we have seen, as a Royal residence.
In these galleries hang hundreds of beautiful
paintings, some of them celebrated all over the world,
and if we had time we might well spend days and weeks
in doing nothing else but studying them.
TWO OLD MONASTERIES
If we leave the city by the Porto San Gallo, and walk
along the road that leads to Fiesole, we will come to
an old church and convent, just at the foot of the hill,
where the road begins to ascend. This is the Convent
of San Domenico di Fiesole, and although it is not
particularly interesting in itself, we must visit it if we
want to know something of the life of Guido da Vicchio,
better known as " Fra Angelico," the " AngeUc Brother,"
with whose paintings of angels we are all familiar,
whether we have been to Florence or not — angels clad
in bright-coloured robes, scarlet and green, blue and
amber, with halos round their heads, and trumpets
or cymbals in their hands, who are always looking
upwards, as if they were joining in the Angelic Song of
For it was to the doors of this convent that Guido
and his brother Benedetto, who afterwards became
Pope, came some five hundred years ago, from their
home among the hills — two country lads of twenty and
nineteen — and craved admittance.
Guido was a born artist, but he felt that he must
become a monk, and it was wonderful how he managed
to combine the two vocations. His Prior, like a sensible
man, allowed him to go on with his art in the convent,
and Guido, or Fra Giovanni, as he was called in his
new home, looked on his art always as a gift given to
him from God, to be used in the service of the Church,
and he did more, perhaps, than will ever be known, to
strengthen the faith of his brother-monks in the reality
of things unseen, by the beautiful frescoes with which
he surrounded them.
We see most of these frescoes in the Convent of San
Marco, within the city walls, where he spent many of
his later years ; but it was while he lived here, at
San Domenico, that he gained the skill, and the self-
confidence, and the delicate art of colouring which
make his works so different from those of any other
artist. He gained his skill by patient, untiring practice ;
he gained his self-confidence from the fact that he never
began to paint without first kneeling down and saying
his prayers, and having done this, he never altered a
picture, or listened to what anyone else said about it,
because he believed that God granted him inspiration
for his work ; and he gained his sense of colour by
wandering about the hills round the monastery, and
drinking in, as it were, all the wonderfully blended
tints that surrounded him — the blue of the sky, the
tender greys and greens of the olive and fig trees,
the reds and pinks of the carnations, oleanders, and
roses, and the purples and heliotropes of the clematis
Someone has said that Fra Angelico's palette might
have been " made out of a rainbow," and it is quite
true ; and we have only to go up the hill of Fiesole
Two Old Monasteries 63
on a bright day in early summer to understand how he
learned to set it.
Thus, when, after twenty years of life at San
Domenico, he was sent with the other members of the
Community to take possession of the Monastery of San
Marco, he was ready for the congenial task that lay
before him. The monastery was in ruins, having been
destroyed by fire, and the brethren had to live at first
in miserable huts, which had been hurriedly built for
them. These were so unhealthy that a great many of
them died, and the Pope interfered, and prevailed on
Cosimo de' Medici, who was then the great man in
Florence, to rebuild the monastery.
Let us go and visit it, for it stands to-day just as it
stood when it was completed, and Fra Giovanni and
his friends took possession of it. Only then the walls
were cold and bare, now they are covered with very
quaint and lovely frescoes. For the Prior asked the
gentle artist-monk, whom everyone loved, who was
already earning for himself the title of " Fra Angelico,"
or *' Beato Angelico," partly because of the beauty of
his paintings, and partly for his sweet and holy character,
to hide the bareness of the walls by painting pictures upon
them. And we may be sure that Fra Angelico was only
too glad to obey, for his thoughts were always busy with
heavenly things, and now he had an opportunity of doing
his part to keep the image of these heavenly things
before the eyes of men.
So he set to work upon the bare white walls, and
although he has been dead nearly five hundred years,
his pictures, so simple and yet so beautiful, greet us
still as we wander through the deserted monastery,
which is now more or less of a museum.
As we enter the quiet cloister, we find ourselves
opposite a picture of the Crucifixion — ^just the Figure
on the Cross and a Dominican monk kneeling beneath
it. This was copied in each of the novice's cells up-
stairs by Fra Angelico's brother, PVa Benedetto, who
must also have been a very clever painter.
If we turn round and look above the door by which
we entered, we shall see another suggestive picture.
It is a figure intended to represent St. Peter Martyr,
one of the most famous Dominican Saints, with his finger
on his lip, as if to remind the Brothers, as they glanced
up at him, of their rule of silence. Over another door-
way we see two Dominican monks receiving our Lord in
the person of a tired wayfarer. We wonder, as we look
at this, if it were a gentle hint to the Community not
to be "forgetful to entertain strangers."
But, interesting as the cloisters are, the little cells
upstairs are more so. Each has its picture, painted on
the space of wall near the window. All of them are
scenes from our Lord's life, and show how the
thoughts of the artist-monk must have dwelt constantly
Here our Lord is teaching the twelve Apostles ;
here He is transfigured upon the mountain. Here
we see Him bound and buffeted, and, strangely, only
the hands of those who buffet Him are visible. Now
He descends into Hell, and the wonderful love and
imagination of the old painter gives us a glorious
representation of how
" Patriarch and Priest and Prophet
Gather round Him as He stands,
In adoring faith and gladness,
Hearing of the pierced Hands."
UL bLKVI, bHOWINU OUO^
Two Old Monasteries 65
Here is His Resurrection, and here His Ascension,
and final Glory.
And outside, in the passage, is one of the most
beautiful of all, an "Annunciation," where the Arch-
angel Gabriel comes to tell the Maiden of Nazareth
about the birth of our Lord. Surely the monks who
lived among these pictures — and, remember, Savonarola
and the good Archbishop Antonino were at one time
among their number — must have had their daily lives
influenced by them.
Other pictures of Fra Angelico's are to be found
elsewhere, especially in the picture - gallery of the
Uffizi Palace. Here we can see a wonderful altar-
piece, or reredos, as we should call it, "The Coronation
of the Virgin amid the Heavenly Choir," and another
of the Madonna and Child, surrounded by a multitude
of the Heavenly Host, simply dazzling in their glory
of clear-tinted colours and burnished gold, from which
most of his angels, either single, or in groups, are copied.
ITS PAINTERS AND SCULPTORS
It is difficult to write about the painters and sculptors
of Florence because there are so many that it would
need quite a big book to tell a little bit about each of
them. But we cannot go into the picture-galleries and
churches and museums without seeing their work, and
coming across their names, so I think that we must
learn a little about the best-known of them. We
have already spoken of Cimabue, Giotto, Fra Angelico,
Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Luca Delia
Robbia, so we must go on to those men who came after
them, or, at least, who came after the first three. First
there was Filippo Lippi, and his son, Filipplno Lippi,
whose frescoes and altar-pieces are after the same style
as those of Fra Angelico, and specimens of whose work
we may see in the galleries, and the Church of the
Carmine. For of course v/e must remember that all
these early painters painted only religious pictures, the
most common subjects being the Annunciation, the
Madonna and Child, the Holy Family (which very
often includes St. Joseph and the little St. John Baptist),
the Adoration by the Wise Men of the East, the
Crucifixion, Christ's Descent from the Cross, and his
Exaltation in Glory.
Filippo Lippi took pupils, as most of the great
Masters did, and among them was Sandro Botticelli,
whose works are very well known in Italy, although
perhaps we do not hear so much about them in England.
This painter was born in a house in the Via Nuovo, and
was the youngest child but one of a very large family.
He was a delicate little boy, and was handed over to
the care of a prosperous elder brother, who paid for his
upbringing, and, when he was thirteen, apprenticed him,
as we have seen, to Filippo Lippi.
When he was a man he went to Rome, and helped to
paint some of the chapels in the Vatican. He returned
to Florence, and although he had not taken much
interest in Savonarola when he was alive, he was so im-
pressed by the bravery and steadfastness of his death,
that he became a deeply religious man, and people say
that the pictures that he painted afterwards, were always
touched with a certain sadness. A great many of these
pictures are in the galleries of the Pitti and Uflizi
Its Painters and Sculptors 67
Palaces, and one of them, a '* Nativity," is in the
National Gallery in London.
Then comes Leonardo da Vinci, and Perugino, and
Lorenzo Credi, all of whom worked together as lads in
the workshop of a sculptor named Andrea Verrochio.
Leonardo da Vinci, who is best known perhaps by
his painting of the "Last Supper," which is to be found
on the walls of a convent in Milan, was a country lad,
who came from a little village among the hills, but who
was such a wonderful painter that he was admitted as a
member of the " Guild of Florentine Painters " when
he was only twenty. He was something of a " Jack-
of-all-trades," for he was such a genius that he not only
painted pictures, but was an engineer, an architect, and
a sculptor as well.
His friend Perugino may be counted as one of the
painters of Florence, for he spent the years when he
was poor, and struggling, and unknown in this city.
Afterwards he lived in the city of Perugia, and had his
studio there, but that was in the days when he was
famous, not only in Italy, but throughout Europe. He
was one of the first of the Italian painters who painted
When he was in Florence he was so poor that he
had no bed, but slept on a chest for many months, and
denied himself the bare necessities of life, in order that
he might have money to buy colours, and persevere in
his art. He has been compared to Fra Angelico,
because he was such a saintly man that he always
seemed to be thinking of heaven, and the faces that
he painted are so calm and peaceful that it has been
said of his work, "that no pain comes near the folk ot
his Celestial City." He had the honour to be the
master of Raphael, who also spent part of his life in
Florence, and was a friend of Ghiberti and Donatello.
Raphael, as you know, was one of the greatest
painters that the world has ever seen, just as Michael
Angelo was one of the greatest sculptors. He
painted many pictures, representing many subjects,
but he loved, more than anything else, to paint pictures
of the Madonna and her Child. Perhaps this was
because he lost his mother when he was a little boy, and
in his home hung a picture of her, with one of her
children on her knee, and perhaps he used to go and
look at it, and study it, until the idea of motherhood,
calm, and sweet, and loving, was stamped on his brain,
and influenced all his work.
A great many of his pictures are in Florence, among
them being the " Madonna della Sedia," or the
" Madonna of the Chair," which I am sure you all
know. It represents the Virgin Mother seated on a
chair, with the Infant Jesus on her lap, and little
St. John the Baptist leaning against her knee.
Another of his Madonnas, the " Sistine Madonna,"
is in the Dresden Gallery, the Elector of Saxony having
bought it for ^9,000, while our own nation paid
^70,000 for his " Ansidei Madonna," which is now in
the National Gallery.
Lastly we come to Michael Angelo, that great
sculptor, who came to the city as a boy of fourteen, and
who is buried in the Church of Sante Croce. He also
was a country lad, and his flither would fain have
apprenticed him to some dealer in silk or wool, thinking
that he would get on in life better as a merchant than
as an artist.
But the boy's talent would not be suppressed in that
Its Painters and Sculptors 69
way, and after much opposition he was allowed to go
to Florence, and enter the workshop of Domenico
From the first he showed extraordinary talent.
Shortly after he went to the city, Lorenzo dc' Medici,
'' Lorenzo the Magnificent," who had a garden full of
beautiful statuary, arranged that a very clever sculptor,
named Butoldo, should come to the garden at certain
hours, and help any student who wanted to improve
himself by studying and copying these works of art.
Ghirlandajo thought this a very good opportunity
for his young apprentices to improve themselves, and
he sent Michael Angelo to the garden along with some
of the other lads.
Up till then Michael had never done anything else
but model in clay or bronze ; but, to everyone's astonish-
ment, after he had visited the garden two or three times,
he took up a chisel and a block of marble, and made such
a wonderful copy of a faun's head, that Lorenzo, seeing
that he had unusual ability, took him to live in his
house, and treated him as one of his own children.
But in four years the great man died, and the young
sculptor was thrown on his own resources. Perhaps this
was rather good for him, for he went " abroad " for a
time, visiting Venice, Bologna, and Rome, and doubtless
learned much from the works of art that he saw there.
When he returned to Florence, he carved one of his
most beautiful statues, and in doing so, he *' killed two
birds with one stone," for he put the Fathers of the City
out of a difficulty, and at the same time produced a work
of art that has been the pride of Florence ever since.
This is how it happened : — A hundred years before,
the City Fathers had entrusted a huge and costly block
of marble to a sculptor named Simone da Fiesole, who
was to carve the figure of a giant out of it. Simone
undertook to do so, but he failed utterly, and an un-
shapely mass of marble was the result.
For a century it lay in the precincts of the Cathedral,
too heavy to be removed, and yet useless — so people
thought. But Michael Angelo, looking at it, saw what
possibilities lay in its very shapelessness.
He modelled a figure in wax, of David, the shepherd-
lad, with a sling in his hand, and, taking it to the
Signoria, he said to them that, if they would allow him,
he would carve a like figure, only in gigantic propor-
tions, out of the marble by which they laid so little store,
and it could be set in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, to
show *' that, as David had defended his people, and
governed them with justice, so whosoever governed
that city should boldly defend it, and justly govern it."
Permission was granted, and he, not wishing to be
troubled with curious onlookers, built a shed round
and over the block, and carved away at it with mallet
and chisel in private.
At last it was finished, and the barriers were taken
down, and there, white and dazzling in the sunlight,
stood a colossal statue of the youthful Hebrew hero,
perfect in every detail, except that one shoulder was a
little flat, because Simone had cut the stone away too
much in that place.
This statue stood for many years in front of the
Palazzo Vecchio, but at last, like Donatello's St. George,
it was considered too precious to be left out in the
open air, and it was removed to the Accademia delle
Belle Arti, where it now stands.
There are many other of Michael Angelo's statues in
Its Painters and Sculptors 7 1
Florence, especially in the Medici Chapel in the Church
of San Lorenzo ; indeed, the whole chapel was designed
and built by the great sculptor, and within it are six
of his most famous works. These are the statues of
Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino, father of Catherine de' Medici,
and of his uncle, Giuliano, son of Lorenzo the Magnifi-
cent, and four other figures, one of which is unfinished,
representing Day and Night, Dawn and Twilight.
There are many other things connected with Michael
Angelo in Florence. We can see his house and little
study in the Via Ghibellina, and the fortifications which
he built on the heights of San Miniato, when he was
called, along with the other townsfolk, to help to defend
the city against her foes. But in order to know all
about his life we should need to read some book which
is written about that alone.
We have already visited the tiny square of San Mar-
tino, to see the almsbox belonging to the Good
Men of St. Martin, which is built into the wall of
St. Martin's Church.
But let us go back once more just to glance at this
newly-built house at the corner of the square, and read
the inscription over the arched doorway. It tells us
that the poet Dante, the greatest Florentine of all,
was born here.
Unfortunately the house has been completely rebuilt,
so it has not the associations that it otherwise would
have had, but at least we can say that it was here that
the poet was born, and in this square that he played as
a child, and in that little church across the road that he
You all know something of the story of Dante's life.
He was one of those seers, like the old prophets, and
like John Bunyan, to whom God spoke in a wonderful
way, granting him a vision, or a very deep degree
of insight into the condition of souls after death —
of how, to use his own words, " man renders himself
liable by good or ill desert, in the exercise of his free-
will, to rewarding or punishing justice," which just
means, in simple language, that what we sow here, we
shall reap hereafter. Only Dante saw, with clearer eyes
than many of us see nowadays, that God can turn
pain and suffering, in the next life, as well as this, to a
good end, and that in His love He can use them to
purify the souls of men, and make them more fit to be
with Him at last.
Dante, or to give him his full name, Durante Alighieri,
was the son of a member of the Guild of Wool, a
woollen merchant, as we should call him, and he was
born in the month of May, 1265.
We do not know if there was anything remarkable
about his early childhood, but when he was nine years
old something very strange happened, not strange in
itself, but in the consequences that followed it.
His father had a friend named Tolco Portinari, who
seems to have been better off than himself, for he lived
in a larger house, and, when little Dante was nine years
old, this Tolco gave a May-Day feast, and invited, not
only all his grown-up friends, but their children as well,
which must have made it a most delightful gathering.
And there among the children, was Toko's own little
daughter, Beatrice, whom he called *' Bice," for short,
wm m iff»> Mij^ft
Its Poet 73
although she was always addressed by her proper name
She was a few months younger than Dante, and
seems to have been a very charming child, with gentle,
modest manners, and grave beyond her years.
As their parents were friends, it appears impossible that
the children had not met before, but on that evening
the little boy seemed to see the little girl in a new light,
almost as if she were a being too bright and rare for
this earth, and from that moment she represented to
him all that was pure and good and true, and, although
he never married her, as one might have expected him
to do when they were both grown up, the thought of
her was the inspiration of his life, and he always tried
to be worthy of her friendship.
He thought so much of this meeting, that, when he
was a man, he wrote down, quite seriously, all about it,
and tells us how Beatrice's dress that day, "was of a
most noble colour, a subdued and goodly crimson,
girdled as best suited her very tender age."
We do not read that Dante saw much more of
his '' Blessed Lady," as he used to call her, in after
years. At least, they were not close friends. But he
used to watch her coming and going through the streets,
and once, when she was about eighteen, he tells us he
met her walking with two of her companions, and she
gave him a most " gracious greeting."
She married a man much older than herself, and very
soon afterwards she died, and Dante's heart was broken.
Not that his life was spoilt — far from it. Beatrice's
death was the beginning of his life-work, for which, it
seemed, he could only be prepared by bitter sorrow.
He married, and had a number of children, and took
his part right manfully in public affairs. He served
as a soldier, and even became one of the eight Priori,
or chief magistrates of the city. Then, at the age of
twenty-six, he was most unjustly banished from Florence
by the Guelphs, whose follower he once had been, but
whose ranks he had left to join those of the Ghibellines,
and, although he lived for twenty-one years afterwards,
he was never allowed to return.
But this was only his outward life. His mind was
constantly dwelling on Beatrice, and on the unseen
world on which she had entered, and more and more
he began to look on every earthly thing only in regard
to what its value would be in the next world.
When he saw men fighting for place and power, he
asked himself what good earthly place and power would
do them when they came to die, and when he heard of
men growing rich by oppressing their poorer neighbours,
or simply living in luxury and pleasing themselves, he
wondered how God would judge such lives.
Then when he became an exile, and his time was no
longer taken up by the affairs of government, he
pondered over these questions still more deeply, until
it really seemed to him that he was taken into the
Unseen World, and, in his mortal body, travelled
through Hell, and the Place of Purification, and into
Heaven itself In those regions it seemed to him that
he met people that he knew. Some of them had
deliberately led wicked lives, and had died unre-
pentant, and were therefore hopelessly sunk in Hell.
Others, again, had really wanted to be good, but had
been greedy, lazy, slothful, proud, envious, unloving,
or passionate ; or had been covetous and cared too
much about being rich ; or gluttonous, and cared too
Its Poet 75
much about eating and drinking. These were slowly
climbing a mountain, and, as they climbed, they were
being purified by having to bear punishments suited to
The proud, who had carried themselves so arrogantly
on earth, had to go about for a time weighed down by
heavy burdens ; those who had made everything dark
around them through their anger and ill-temper, had to
walk and live in thick black smoke which almost blinded
them. Those who had been lazy, and unwilling to
exert themselves in God's service, could not rest, but
felt that now they must for ever be running onward ;
those who thought only about money were obliged to
lie with their faces in the dust, with their backs turned
towards the Heaven they longed to enter, and so on.
But, in spite of all these punishments, the Mount of
Purification was a happy place, for those who were
suffering there were learning to see what their sin had
been, and were gradually being purified and made
ready for the Presence of God.
Then, finally, Dante passed into Heaven, and saw the
bliss and happiness of the Saints — among whom was
Beatrice — who had so overcome their faults in this life,
and so denied themselves, and lived only for God's
glory, that they had been counted worthy to be with
Him at once in Heaven.
Dante described all these things in a long poem of
fourteen thousand lines, called the "Divina Commedia,"
which is divided into three parts — the Inferno, the
Purgatoro, and the Paradiso — which has been trans-
lated into English, and you may read it for yourselves
when you are older.
Of course a great deal of it is allegorical ; we cannot
say that it Is literally true, that when we die things
will happen to us exactly as Dante says they will ; but
it is true in spirit, and contains a great many lessons
v/hich it would be well for us to ponder, and gives us
many ideas about the future life which make that life
appear much more real and interesting.
If Florence had its poet, it also had its martyr —
I can only tell you here the bare outline of his life,
but no book about Florence, no matter how small it is,
would be complete without some mention of him, for
although he was not born in the city, he spent the best
years of his life in seeking the good of the citizens, both
religiously and politically, and he laid it down at last
for their sakes. He was born at Ferrara in 1452, and
his parents were gentlefolks, although they were not
very rich. His grandfather had been a very celebrated
physician, and it was hoped that young Girolamo — for
that was his Christian name — might follow in his steps.
Perhaps at first he made up his mind to do so, and
looked forward to a life of prosperity and honour, but
other thoughts began to fill his brain as he grew older,
and another Voice to call him.
Italy was in a very flourishing condition at this time,
and it almost always happens that when people grow
rich and comfortable they also grow lazy and luxurious,
and sometimes even wicked. The Italians had grown
very wicked and careless, and their wickedness and care-
lessness vexed the soul of the young Savonarola, who
Its Martyr 77.
was very grave-minded, and serious beyond his years.
He did not know what to do. He did not see what
was the best way in which he could make a protest
against the luxury, selfishness, and idleness of the people,
and we are told that he often used to repeat this prayer :
" O Lord, make me to know the way wherein I may
guide my soul."
At last he determined to enter a monastery ; so he
joined the Dominican Order at Bologna. He was just
twenty-three then, and for seven long years he had to
wait, as so many strong men have had to wait, before
he could lift a finger, or utter a word, to try to fight the
evils he saw everywhere around him. For instead of
being sent out to preach, as so many of the Dominican
Brethren were, he was set to teach the novices philo-
sophy, which has very little to do with everyday life.
Then he was sent to Florence, to the Monastery of
San Marco, which we have already visited, and which
must have looked, on the day that he entered it, very
much as it looks now, with its quiet cloisters and its
little cells, with Fra Angelico's pictures painted upon
their walls. For, at the time that Savonarola came to
Florence, the " Blessed Angelico " had been dead only
some thirty years.
Now, if the people of Ferrara were luxurious and
wicked, the people of Florence were more so. For the
city was ruled at this time by one of the Medici, whose
name was Lorenzo, who was practically a pagan, and
who was so fond of splendour and foolish display of all
kinds, that he was known as "Lorenzo the Magnificent."
He set a very bad example to the citizens, especially to
the younger generation, who were growing up without
belief in God, and who learned from him to think that
it was a fine thing to live in idleness, and wastefulness,
Even in Florence, for a time, Savonarola had very little
opportunity to speak the words of warning and rebuke
that had been in his heart for so many years. He still
had to teach the novices, but, occasionally, in Advent or
Lent, he was sent out along with the other monks to
preach. But he was a Lombard, and the accent of the
Lombards was a trifle hard and uncouth compared to
the accent of the cultivated Florentines, so it came to
pass that when he preached his first sermon in the Church
of San Lorenzo, there were only about twenty-five people
who had the patience to listen to him.
After that he was only allowed to preach in the little
villages in the mountains, where the people were not so
particular, and where they listened gladly to what he had
to say to them about the need for repentance, and the
care that they must take to live godly lives. These
preaching tours took place, as we have seen, only once
or twice a year, and the rest of his time was spent in the
quiet monotony of lecturing to the novices. It is said
that in these years of patient waiting Savonarola learned
the whole of the Bible by heart, and that is perhaps why
he afterwards gained such influence as a preacher.
But, although he was only supposed to teach his pupils
philosophy, it was impossible for him to keep other things
out of his lectures — the things that spoke of" righteous-
ness, temperance, and judgment to come," and as there
were many grave and serious-minded men in Florence,
who were distressed and alarmed at the mad thoughtless-
ness which seemed to have taken possession of their
fellow-citizens, they listened to the rumours which began
to get about of the monk of San Marco who spoke so
Its Martyr 79
plainly and wisely to the students under his care. One
by one they went to hear him lecture, then they took
any of their friends who were of the same mind as
themselves, and by-and-by Fra Savonarola's lecture-
room became too small for his audience, and we have a
delightful picture of him leading his listeners out to
the cloister one summer evening — that cloister on the
walls of which Fra Angelico's Crucifixion is painted, and
sitting below a damask rose-tree, talking of the serious-
ness of life and death, the white-robed novices clustered
round him, while the rest of the space was filled with
the grave Signors of Florence, who drank in eagerly
every word he said.
After that they begged that his voice might be heard
in the church near by, and, for the next eight years, he
preached at regular intervals, first in the Church of San
Marco, and then, as the crowds who thronged to hear
him grew larger and larger, in the vast Cathedral itself.
People say that he was one of the greatest preachers
that the world has ever known, and this was because he
was so much in earnest. He was like St. John the
Baptist, he had a burning desire to " prepare the way
of the Lord," and the whole burden of his message to
the people was that they should " repent " and put away
their evil doings from them. " If not," he said, " an
awful doom will fall on the Church, and on the city
which you love so well."
And, strange to say, people flocked in thousands to
hear him. They forgot the roughness of his Lombard
tongue ; they did not heed that he prophesied hard things
to them instead of smooth ; they only knew that some
strange Power spoke through him, as he stood in the
pulpit of the immense dark church, in his black-and-
white robes, grasping a crucifix in his hand, which he
held out to them as if pleading with them to learn
what self-denial meant, while they stood in awestruck
and breathless silence below.
I have not space to tell you all the consequences of
his preaching ; you must read the story for yourselves.
Florence became a different city ; many people turned
their backs on their old lives, and became from thence-
forth God-fearing, sober, and righteous.
There is only one story I must relate, because it has
to do with children. There were quite as many street-
arabs in Florence as there are in any other large town
to-day, and they were just as uncared-for and neglected.
And as the times were lawless, so were these boys. In
fact, they were a danger to everyone. They barricaded
the streets, and would let no one pass until they had
paid a kind of " toll " in money. They collected any
wood that they could lay hands on, and made great bon-
fires in the public squares, and they nearly killed, indeed
they sometimes did kill, anyone who interfered with
them, by pelting them with stones.
In some marvellous way Savonarola got hold of these
lads, and formed them into what seems to have been an
organization like the " Boy Scouts." He divided them
into bands according to the districts in which they lived.
Each band had its own captain. And, more wonderful
still, he persuaded them to turn their energies to more
useful occupations than molesting peaceable travellers,
burning useless bonfires, and throwing stones. One bon-
fire, indeed, he permitted them to make. He had begged
the grown-up people who gathered in the Cathedral to
destroy a great many of their fine dresses, and their use-
less ornaments and playthings, their powder, and paint,
^^^M^ |.,ni- III
_ '» - .;._?:.^-«^-^.
IN THE CASCINE. OR PUBLIC PARK
SAN MINIATO IN THE DISTANCE.
Its Martyr 8i
and false hair, their cards and dice. And he sent these
bands of boys round to their houses to collect those
things, and throw them into a big bonfire, which they
had lit in the great square before the Palazzo Vecchio.
This bonfire was called the " Bonfire of Vanities," and,
if some things were destroyed in it that need not have
been in better and happier times, I have no doubt that
the fine ladies and pleasure-seeking young men felt
that at least they had taken one decisive step in the
right direction, when they parted with the baubles on
which they had put such store, and over which they
had spent so much time and money.
That was at the beginning of Lent, 1496, and on the
following Palm Sunday Savonarola collected all the
children at San Marco, dressed, as many of them as
could aflx)rd it, in little white robes, like surplices, and
wearing wreaths of flowers on their heads, and, giving
them tiny red crosses and sprigs of palm, to remind them
of the first Palm Sunday, and of the Passion week which
followed it so quickly, he led them through the streets
to the Cathedral, singing hymns as they went. Surely,
the man who could gather the children round him like
this must have had a great, loving, simple heart.
By this time he was Prior of San Marco, and, if we
will, we can see the cell which he occupied, with its stool,
desk, and crucifix, its bare floor and little arched window,
and even a volume of his written sermons, brown with
age, with beautifully neat notes made on the margin ;
and, in a glass case on the wall, some fragments of his
garments and a bit of the wood with which he was burned.
For after all the love and enthusiasm and devotion that
he inspired, he died a martyr's death, as so many other
reformers have done.
For by-and-by the greater part of the people grew
tired of being preached at, and of always being told to
lead strict lives, and fell back into their old ways, and
wished the Prior of San Marco would hold his tongue.
Then the Pope, Alexander VI. — whose real name was
Roderigo Borgio, who was, perhaps, the most wicked
man that had ever filled that office — became tired of
Savonarola's words of warning, because he preached
against things which were very wrong, but which both
the Pope and the clergy allowed themselves to do, and
he tried to stop him by offering to make him a Cardinal.
Savonarola refused the bribe, and went on with his
sermons. Then the Pope excommunicated him, and for-
bade him to preach. The Prior obeyed the order for
six months ; then, as he watched the terrible wickedness
which was going on unrebuked in the Church, as well
as in the outside world, he could no longer forbear.
He began to preach again. And now he boldly de-
nounced the Pope, and said that, instead of being "called
by the Holy Ghost " to his office, he had bought it, just
as he might have bought some worldly business, which
was quite true. Naturally, this made the Pope very
angry indeed, and the end soon came.
Savonarola and two of his monks were arrested in San
Marco one April evening in the year 1498, and dragged
to the Palazzo Vecchio, where they were cruelly tortured,
in the vain hope that the Prior would unsay his words,
and that his followers would agree with him. After
that, they were imprisoned for more than a month in
the Palace ; we can see the little cell which Savonarola
occupied, far up in the tower. Then, on May 19th,
messengers from Rome arrived, carrying the death-sen-
tence with them. Once more the three brave men were
Its Martyr 83
put to torture, in the hope of wringing a denial from
them, but with no better result, and on the night of
May 22nd they were told to prepare to die.
The news came as a relief, for their poor limbs had
been racked and twisted until they were quite out of
shape, and they must have been suffering agonies. If
we go into the great hall of the Palazzo, which is so
magnificent with its gilt and painted ceiling, its frescoed
walls, and its polished floor, we shall see where the three
friends passed their last night on earth, each in his
separate corner, for they were not allowed to be together.
Next morning they went up to the little Chapel of
San Bernardo, on the floor above, a tiny place, but
with walls covered with beautifully painted frescoes by
the famous artist, Ghirlandajo. Here Savonarola
celebrated the Holy Communion, of which they par-
took, and very soon afterwards they were led out into
the Piazza, or Square, in front of the Palace, to die.
We can see the exact spot. It is marked by a stone in
the pavement a little way out from the right-hand
corner of the building.
Before their execution their gowns were stripped ofl^
them, as a sign that the Church had cast them out.
The Bishop who performed this oflice for Savonarola
was empowered to say : ^^ I separate thee from the
Church Militant," but, confused and nervous, he added,
" and from the Church Triumphant."
" Nay," replied Savonarola — and we can fancy how
his voice would ring out in spite of his weakness —
" from the Church Militant, but not from the Church
Triumphant. Thou hast no power to do that."
So the three friends passed to the Church Trium-
phant, or at least to the Church Expectant, chanting the
TelDeum, andirepeating the Creed. And we are thankful
to remember that their death was a swift one, for they
were mercifully hanged before they were burned.
Four hundred years have passed since then, and all
Christendom knows now — even the Church that cast
him out — what a deadly error was committed on that
May morning. Had they listened to his words, had
they accepted his reforms, the city of Florence and the
Church of Rome would have been spared many troubles
that afterwards fell upon them.
They saw their mistake when it was too late, but at
least they owned it, and the life-sized statue of the
martyr, carved in white marble, which now stands at
the end of the hall where he slept his last earthly sleep,
is a proof of the love and esteem with which his
country looks back on his memory.
ITS SURROUNDINGS AND FESTAS
Although the squares in Florence are more like paved
market-places than anything else, and have not gardens
in the centre, as so many of our squares have at home,
there is no lack of gardens and open spaces outside the
walls, where the citizens can enjoy country walks, or
go for shade during the long, hot days of summer.
First of all, there is Fiesole, which just looks like a
tiny village, but which is really a Cathedral town, perched
upon its hill-top, about two and a half miles distant.
It hardly seems so far away, for the suburbs of the city
stretch to the foot of the hill, which is covered wfth
beautiful villas, standing in gardens, while a tramway
takes us up to the top in a very short time.
Its Surroundings and Festas 85
On the other side of the valley is another hill, San
Miniato, which is also covered with houses, and gardens,
and shady walks, and there the car takes us to a level
piece of ground, with plenty of seats, which is known
as the Piazza Michel Angelo, because it was here that
the great sculptor erected his fortifications, and from
which we have a magnificent view of the city.
Just below San Miniato are the Boboli Gardens, so
called because an old family named Boboli once built
a villa on part of the ground which they now occupy.
This ground was very rocky, and when the Pitti Palace
came to be erected, the stone for the building was taken
from it. Of course this made a series of big quarries, and
it is in these quarries that the gardens have been laid out,
and, as the nooks and corners are naturally very sheltered,
all sorts of tropical plants grow here, which make the
grounds exceedingly beautiful as well as interesting.
Farther down the Arno, to the west of the city, is
the great Cascine, or Public Park. This is a delightful
place, especially for family picnics. For it is almost
entirely covered by great trees, just like a thick forest,
through which little paths run, and two broad carriage-
drives. One of these is shady, and is a popular resort
for people who own carriages, in the heat of summer,
while the other, which runs along the banks of the
Arno, is warm and sunny, and is a favourite promenade
for everyone in the cold winter days.
It is not all wooded, however, for here and there
the trees open out and show shady little meadows,
just like those we find in Switzerland, where the grass
grows quite long and thick, an uncommon thing in
Italy. Here parties of holiday-makers can go and
spend the livelong day, the elders resting under the
trees, and the children enjoying themselves in the
On Ascension Day a very pretty Festa, or Fete, is
held in the Cascine. This is the " Giorno dei Grilli,"
the Festival of the Crickets — insects very much like
grass-hoppers. All the children get up early on that
day, go into the Park and catch these tiny creatures, and
put them in little cages made of wire, just like bird-
cages, only much smaller. Then they carry them home,
or take them as presents to their friends, and if the
grillo chirps lustily when it is taken indoors, it means
good luck to the house and all its inmates during the
Another interesting Festa is on Easter Even, when
a great crowd assembles in front of the Duomo to see
a number of fireworks set alight by a dove of fire,
which seems to fly from the high-altar down the
church and through the open door. Of course, the
creature is of metal, and is drawn along a wire, and is
artificially lit up, but it is a very pretty sight. After
the dove has done her work she flies back to the
altar, and it is supposed that on the way in which she
performs her duties depend the chances of a good or
The origin of this custom was, that long centuries
ago, a member of one of the noble Florentine families
went as a Crusader to the Holy Land, and on his return
he brought a piece of flint from the Holy Sepulchre,
from which, with the aid of a piece of steel, the spark
was struck which lit the Sanctuary lamps in the Cathe-
dral on Easter Even.
For, as you know, in the Roman Catholic Church
there is always a light burning before the altar, and this
Its Surroundings and Festas 87
is only extinguished once a year, from the evening of
Maundy Thursday to Easter Even ; then it is relit.
But other churches in the city wanted to kindle
their Sanctuary lamps from this stone also, so, instead
of carrying the stone all round, which would have taken
a great deal of time, various lamps or lanterns were lit
from the newly-kindled light in the Duomo, and taken
to the other churches in a magnificent wooden car,
richly ornamented, and drawn by two white oxen
decorated with scarlet trappings, and wearing chaplets
of flowers between their horns. Now, however, the
car does not go from church to church : it only conveys
the fireworks to the Duomo, where they are lit in the
Then there is the Festa of "Befana," or Epiphany,
when the children have their plates filled by the person
whom we should call Santa Claus, but whom they call
Befana, who is supposed to be an old woman who is
quite black because she lives in the chimney all the
rest of the year, and of whom the little ones stand in
awe. Another Festa is that of San Giovanni, or St. John
(the Baptist), the Patron Saint of the city, which takes
place on June 24th, when the Duomo and Campanile
are beautifully illuminated, and fireworks are set off
from one of the bridges over the Arno. These fire-
works form the signal for lighting niinla'ous bonfires,
which have been built q;>, the. tops .pf the hills over-
looking the Valley of tv^'e-\^rnQ,.QO,.that in whatever
direction one looks there j«»;a:bJa;Z€ 'of' light.
Later on, on September 7th,''cbmes the " Rificolone,"
or Feast of the Lanterns, which is now observed
principally by children, but which used to be observed
by grown-up people as well. It is celebrated by all
the children going out in the evening when it is dark,
with little lanterns made of coloured paper stretched
over thin strips of cane, which can be bent so as to
take any shape — that of a ball, a fish, a bell, a boat,
or a basket. These' are carried at the end of wooden
rods, and the children go swinging them up and down,
vying with each other who can show the prettiest
lantern, and singing such rhymes as this :
" Here is a basket ; look to me,
For a better basket you ne'er shall see."
There is just one Festa more that we may mention,
and that is the " Nut Fair " — we might almost say
" Nut Fairs," for one is held on every Sunday during
Lent, at a different gate of the city. These fairs are
very much looked forward to, especially by the children,
who save up their money to spend at the stalls which
are erected on either side of the gate, and look quite
gay, draped with bright red and white cotton, and
ornamented with flags and flowers. They are piled up
with hazel-nuts and walnuts, but other things are sold
as well — oranges, and sweets, and dried fruits of every
description. Then there are portable ovens, in which
stout old country-women bake brigidini — cakes made
of aniseed and flour, which are kneaded on a little
table, and th^n' slippe.d into the oven by means of an
iron spade wivh a long h-indle. Other cakes are sold
as well, and tiny i:rinjc,ets, und when the children go
home in the evenings they are laden with many little
trifles dear to their .c)iil(i;5h hearts.
BILLING AND SONS, LTD., PRINTERS, 'GUILDFORD
PICTURE PLAN OF FLORENXE.
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PUBLISHED nV A. AND C. DLACK. LONDON.
^ 6 1940